Copyright © 1996, by

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and incidents in this work are fictitious or used fictitiously. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, products, or publications -- living, dead, or otherwise -- is intended nor should such be inferred.

WARNING: Mild profanity. Vampiric intimacy.
Proceed at your own risk.


 The entire Introduction represents a significant MtD spoiler. 




LENGTH: 95,000 words.

ARCHIVE: Divisadero Street

INCLUDES: Louis, Lestat, Daniel, and Armand.

CAMEOS: David, Gabrielle, Khayman, Jesse, Marius, Santino, Maharet, and Eric.

BASED ON: Another Interview.

SEQUEL: Citadel of Grace.

APPENDICES: French Glossary, Townhouse Maps, About The Author, About The Story.


Revision History


REPOSTED: October 1997

Last Revision to Story: Thursday, January 18, 1996

First HTML Version: Sunday, November 1, 1998



New York, February 1994

“Don’t be a common fool!” The terror cut through Lestat’s bitterness and he fell to sobbing again. He babbled almost incoherently, clutching at David and the mortal woman feverishly, repeating his incredible story. This demon taking him to Heaven and then Hell. The invitation to drink Christ’s blood.

He will be the ruin of us all.

Common, indeed. Armand’s mind remained closed, the petty insult brushed aside and his expression unchanged, rapt before the tumult wrought by the yellow-haired vampire. As he had always been. He could do nothing more. Long ago he had tried to evoke a deeper understanding from this provincial vampire, but there had never been more than the glimmer of comprehension, clinging as Lestat did to his aristocratic sentiments.

Why with this one must there always be but one answer, one absolute truth?

Lestat’s mind was open now, inviting, challenging. Love me. Accept what I tell you. Believe in me.


Lestat had played this game before, of course. The auburn-haired vampire knew exactly how aware Lestat was of his love. He’d never concealed that love from Lestat. It was Armand’s greatest gift. He was incapable of any real hatred. There was only love, and degrees of love. Lestat knew this.

There was no time for such games now.

The mortal woman.... Her mind was rampaging, dreams of wielding divine power surfacing in flashes. Visions of eternal glory. She must be stopped. But that, only Lestat could do. He had foolishly put his protection around her.

Her dark angel.

David seemed unaware of the lurking disaster and continued prodding Lestat for details. Why could they not see?

Armand was a believer. It made no sense to be otherwise. There was elegant simplicity in having one belief to argue. He would happily defend his convictions for centuries, if allowed. No other vampire was more accomplished in this than he. Lestat knew this as well.

One belief, yes. But truth was a diamond, each facet a new color, and each color unique. Every cut important or the luster was repressed.

But there was no time to ponder the truth of Lestat’s tale. It mattered not at all whether Armand believed. Not now, not with this woman collapsing under the pressure of it all. More coherent than most, but she had been damaged nonetheless when Lestat revealed himself to her. And it grew steadily worse, multiplying with every passing moment.

Armand attempted to placate the frenzied Lestat, offering assurances to convey that nothing had changed, that he was still wanted.

Lestat would not be comforted. The fool still wanted to join with the mortal world! He would reveal their most unfathomable secrets and then hold himself up to be glorified before them. Lestat’s grand delusion! He had not changed. He never changed, his mind could not accept that possibility. Armand changed, with every age. Yet Lestat could never see beyond his young frame. Ironic, when the vampire’s own visage was so puerile.

Immutable, yes, as the need for blood. Such a thing might deter the crazed vampire from this destructive course. Armand asked for what he had always asked, to drink from Lestat.

“Back away from me,” Lestat snarled and launched into another tirade about the relic, the Veil of Veronica.

Armand watched helplessly. He saw it coming, Lestat’s hand fumbling in his vest. He fell to his knees as the ancient cloth was drawn free, loosed upon the mortal woman.

She snapped.

He felt the blood tears tumbling inexplicably down his cheeks as Lestat’s mass thundered to the floor beside him. David alone stood, dumbfounded, as the woman danced maniacally around the flat, declaring the cloth to be her god.

No, he understood the tears. He’d had the first recognition of how this night would end. Armand squeezed his eyes shut. There must be another way!

Chaos erupted as Lestat and David pleaded with the demented mortal. Why did they bother? Her mind was gone. And yet they fawned over her like newborn fledglings, as if she was their maker.

Armand’s thoughts blazed ahead, envisioning clearly the fervor with which this revelation would be received. A tidal wave of religion to drown them all! How to stem the tide? Again he saw what he knew he must do, but the horror of it kept his mind searching.

Such zealotry would die of its own accord, but after how long? And after how many of their remaining number had been tortured? Here was physical evidence that the supernatural was among them. The books Louis and then Lestat had written would be reexamined and they would be hunted. All of them. Their names were known. How long would it take for someone to recognize her dark angel?

There might not be another way.

He took a fleeting instant to search his golden-haired friend’s frantic, unfocused eye. The hollow socket was as ugly as Lestat had ever wished for in his quest for goodness. Armand allowed his most secret and quietest silent voice to whisper to Lestat.

What has happened to you will haunt you, beloved. What I may need to do will haunt you. Dark days await us both. We can survive to speak of this another day, when you have found your peace. I can be patient. I will survive because I know what I face. You may not. Seek out Louis, wherever he wanders. He alone will comfort you, as he has always done. Our fledglings’ love is our greatest strength. This I believe.

No comprehension showed in Lestat’s face, but he had expected none.

Armand rose, following after the woman had danced out of the flat. He knew what she meant to do. He was powerless to stop her. Any move against her would be halted by the two he felt following behind him. Lestat would arise from his lethargy as surely as David would pommel him with questions about his motivations.

But they would not stop her.

There would be no stopping the dam burst he saw, making his way into the New York winter and through the unplowed street as she screamed at the doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The realization chilled him more than the snow drifting about his feet. There would be no escaping this fate. He remained in the doorway as the gathering crowd of mortals swept inside, quietly conjuring to himself the images that would protect him.

Dawn was upon them. He had one moment to jam a wedge into this disaster. One he could later pull free to bring it all crashing down. Yes, he would be Lestat’s believer!

David was already dragging the inconsolable Lestat toward shelter as he told them what he would do. They had disappeared as he chose his place carefully, stretching his arms wide.

Every soul in the cathedral heard his declaration and watched as the sun’s first rays touched his flesh. For an instant, he was lost in the sheer magnificence of the sight before the long-forgotten warmth engulfed him.

Then he was burning. Burning.

He heard Lestat’s anguished cries as he hurled himself with preternatural speed away from the holy place, faster than mortal eyes could see, leaving behind the roiling fireball to blind them. Down into the subway, through the early crowds, a wisp of smoke all that marked his passage, and into the dismal tunnel, which was the deeper crypt. Collapsing finally in an eternally dark corner, still he heard Lestat’s lament.

“Armand, Armand.”

Learn to live in your hell, Lestat, for you cannot die. As I cannot die.

The agony of his burns filled his senses, blessedly pushing the night’s events from his mind.

Time to think, yet no time to think.

A tear faltered on its path down his blistered flesh and a word escaped his cracked lips as the welcome oblivion of Death’s sleep descended. A word that had been quietly echoing through his mind the entire night.


Part I: July 1996

Night One

Silicon Valley

“Here...and here,” Lestat said.

Louis looked up from the divan to see his maker’s finger move across the long sheet of paper. He watched as Chérie’s red marker followed, noting each correction as Lestat pointed.

“Très bon, mon père,” she said, nodding.

Louis smiled as he watched her warm brown hair bob playfully. She wore her ponytail looped halfway again through the colorful rayon and elastic tie, creating an unending circle. Her neck lay exposed seductively and his dark green eyes lovingly traced its alabaster contours. He ignored the urge to rise and taste that flesh with his lips, to loose that hair and feel its silkiness between his long, hard fingers. Lestat would be none too pleased at yet another interruption.

Since Daniel’s contract had been signed a month earlier, Chérie and Lestat had labored over the new edition of his book. Daniel would not begin his rewrites until Louis approved the changes and additions they had been diligently cataloging.

They had fallen into the pattern of Lestat dictating and Chérie typing, though their maker had been loathe to admit she was the better typist. Louis’s eyes danced, recalling the night Lestat had insisted they test this ability, maker and fledgling. Chérie trounced him every time, her vampiric abilities enhancing her natural dexterity.

She was so beautiful. And so very enticing to him. A modern vampire, made only last summer, the most recent and perhaps the last of Lestat’s coven. Chérie was unlike any other vampire. Not solely for her dress, which was strange enough, preferring as she did the lightest weight fabrics, rayon and silk, next to her preternatural flesh. She conceded to sweaters, long trowsers, and boots only when the foulest weather demanded them. Footwear, it seemed, she shunned most of all.

Louis marked his place in the novel he had been reading and set the book on the endtable. Lestat hovered over her now, one hand on the desk and one on her shoulder, reading the words as they appeared on the computer’s monitor. Chérie wore a long rayon shirt matching her hair tie, deep blue and covered in a print of tropical flowers, the material draping sensually beneath her maker’s hand. She sat with one leg tucked under her, slender fingers poised over the keyboard as Lestat described a location to her.

What separated Chérie from other vampires was how she had come to be Born to Darkness. Not in the way she had been made, for Louis had played a similar part in Claudia’s making as well, draining her before Lestat had allowed her to feed. She was unique in why she had sought the Dark Gift. Chérie had been conceived in love and she loved her maker without reservation. She found nothing but delight in Lestat and he seemed truly happy to heap his affections upon her.

Not since those early days with Claudia had Louis seen his maker so at ease with simple love. Making Chérie had seemed to lift the gloom that had trailed Lestat since his affair with Memnoch. It freed him to love Louis again, as he had never done, even going so far as to forgive Louis what Lestat had called his worst sin, withholding the immortal blood during the fiasco with the body thief.

But it was the demon Memnoch who had given understanding to Lestat of Louis’s anguish over killing mortals. There was no denying their vampire nature and the need to kill, though, as both he and Lestat had attempted. This had been excruciating for Chérie as well. He knew she had fed her second night, taking her instruction from Lestat on choosing to hunt where evildoers were prevalent. Their maker had been uncharacteristically patient with her, Louis later learned, once he had again fed from his maker and gained the ability to hear his Chérie’s thoughts.

For she had been made for him. She had accepted the Dark Gift because of her love for Louis. Chérie was not running from pain or guilt or fear. She chose being Born to Darkness so she might live with him forever.

A tear gathered in Louis’s eye. She loved him. Loved him more than she despised the killing. It had been by far the most difficult thing he’d done when, a week after her birthing, she had again needed to feed. He still hunted nightly then, though she did not, made as she was with Lestat’s powerful blood. Chérie had accompanied him, watching him take the first mortal to cross his path. They sat and talked a long time after that. He described his complete surrender to his vampire nature, how he fed swiftly and ruthlessly. His human nature manifested itself only in that he did not give his victims the chance to feel fear or pain. She asked about what their maker called the little drink and he had reminded her what it had done to Daniel and to Nicki, as they had read in Lestat’s books. Chérie had agreed it seemed cruel, only creating more victims while delaying the kill that must eventually come. He tried to explain Armand’s way of calling out Those Who Would Die, how the auburn-haired vampire would put up visions to entice his victims to come to him.

Late that night, after she had fed, Louis held her as she cried. Chérie had tried calling out a victim but she had visions when she fed, as her maker did, and it was too painful, the anguish her victim had felt, the loneliness, and the fear of living.

They had hunted once more together, a month after Louis had fed again from Lestat, finally accepting his maker’s appeal to embrace his vampiric gifts and grow stronger. That night, Chérie held Louis as he wept. He had seen the visions for the first time, experiencing completely the life he was taking. The loves and joys of his victim, the rapture the mortal had felt as the life drained from him. Sweet, too deliciously sweet.

She too was Merciful Death that night and when they returned to her little house, they lay together on her big bed and cried. She opened her mind to him, and he to her, telling silently of their victims. Holding each other, stroking hair, kissing away the blood tears. Finally they locked, fangs to neck, joined in love, bound in blood. The ecstasy he felt as the gush of her blood filled his mouth, sliding through his being, was unlike any he’d known. His flesh, warm from the kill, pressed hard against her scorching flesh. She had seemed frantic to pull him closer as their thoughts flooded together, image upon image rushing with the blood. So like mortal coupling but infinitely more.


He sat up abruptly on the divan at the sharpness in her voice. Lestat was as he was before but watching him and looking somewhat annoyed. Chérie had turned to face him, her cheeks slightly flushed.

“Louis,” she scolded gently. “We shall never get any work done with you thinking that way. My God! Who could concentrate!”

Louis looked contrite and smiled. “I’m sorry, my love.”

Lestat burst into laughter, the back of his hand delicately covering his lips. “What ever were you thinking, Louis?”

“You’ll never know,” Louis said, affecting a cruelty he did not possess.

His maker matched his stare, the effect genuine. “You think not? I alone cannot read your thoughts, mon petit.” He turned back to the galleys, explaining no further.

There was no need. Louis had been careless to let his mind roam freely for other vampires to read as they pleased. He closed his mind now, putting up what he thought of as a wall of static, one corner of his preternatural mind churning out ambiguous images as fast as they could be conjured. And then he ignored that corner, something he was quite good at doing, actually.

But those vampiric minds, and those of innumerable mortals, were open to Lestat if he chose and they were unguarded, all but the four belonging to his living fledglings. He and Chérie. David. And Gabrielle. Louis smiled.

“Gabrielle sends her love,” he said. He saw Chérie’s smile before she turned. Lestat threw up his hands.

Mon Dieu! Are we to get no work done tonight?” He stomped across the room and threw himself into the chair opposite Louis. “So. You’ve been in contact with Gabrielle.”

Louis nodded slowly. “She’s somewhere in South America, I think. It felt vaguely familiar.” He searched his maker’s blue-gray eyes. They were almost violet tonight, picking up the color from the brilliant purple satin shirt he wore, a perfect contrast to his lustrous yellow locks.

“Focus please, Louis,” Lestat said wearily.

Chérie giggled as she saved the documents they had been working on.

Don’t laugh, Louis glared at her silently. You do it, too.

She clamped a hand over her mouth.

He returned his attention to their maker. Lestat’s eyes shimmered with amusement, his gaze low, his lips pressed together, silken and seductive. Lestat was playing with him, he knew. Louis intertwined his fingers and stared at them lest he get distracted again.

“I have been trying to contact her for several weeks,” he continued. “With no success. I wanted to learn if I could do this and she seemed the best choice.”

Lestat nodded. “Difficult. Yes, a good choice. If you could contact her, any of the others would be easy by comparison.”


“How is she?” Lestat asked quietly as he inspected the white plaster walls. “You know, this room screams for wallpaper.”

Louis glanced at Chérie. Lestat had already rearranged the furniture several times, his latest victim being the coffeetable, which now stood forlornly up-ended, exiled in the garage. Louis was at a loss in advising Chérie for it seemed he had always been routed in these bizarre little battles with his maker. And it had astounded him when she explained her belief that this was just another way Lestat expressed his love, that in lavishing his attention on their things he was in truth caring for them. It seemed far too simple, compared to Lestat’s usual machinations. Yet, she had worked hard for her home and was not about to relinquish her mastery over it.

Chérie clicked off the monitor and crossed to sit beside Louis.

“Oh, no you don’t!” she said. “Don’t you start redecorating my house now. I don’t have near enough budget for your tastes.”

Their maker waved it away as if it was no reason at all.

“Consider it a wedding gift then.”

“Wedding gift,” she repeated flatly, sitting back and hooking a leg over Louis’s.

Lestat leered at her momentarily then turned back to Louis. “So how is Mother?”

“She seemed fine,” Louis continued quickly, slipping his arm around Chérie. From the tension in her shoulders, he knew she would not let Lestat’s remark rest for long. What could Lestat be thinking? “Gabrielle is worried about you, though. I tried to let her know you were well, back to your old surly self, but I don’t think she’ll believe it until she sees you with her own eyes.”

His maker shifted, propping one elbow on the arm of the chair and leaning his head on his hand. “Well, it’s not exactly true, is it? I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same.” With his free hand he made a gesture that encompassed Louis and Chérie. “You two have been an interesting diversion, but really, how much longer can that last?”

Louis smiled. “A century, at least. We’ve done it before, under far worse circumstances.”

Lestat’s eyebrows raised thoughtfully as he absently nodded, stroking his chin with one finger.

“Claudia?” Chérie asked, uttering the name with some reverence.

Her maker’s finger halted and he looked at her.

“Do the similarities disturb you?” he asked.


“Don’t let them. They’re really only superficial, coincidence even. Like Louis’s feeding from Claudia and my feeding from you. It was simply time for the denial to end. Creating Claudia was folly. You were not.”

Chérie nodded. “But didn’t she bind you together?”

Louis pulled her onto his lap, loosing her hair and combing it with his fingers as she lay her head against his shoulder.

“For a time. It was an excuse because I loved Lestat from the moment I saw him. Through you I saw I no longer needed an excuse, that I could accept his love.” Louis looked up to see Lestat’s intense gaze upon him and he held those eyes a long time. He would never turn away from that love again. He smiled. “And you, my love, were the first of his fledglings he did not defeat into taking the Dark Gift.”

Lestat laughed. “No, Louis. You were the first.” He seemed amused by Louis’s confusion as he addressed himself to Chérie. “I never gave the others a choice. Only to Louis did I give understanding of what this life meant before working the Dark Trick. Horrified though he was, he saw the beauty beyond the death and loved me anyway. As you love him, Chérie.”

“David knew,” Louis said.

“Yes, but I hardly gave him a choice, now did I?” He stood hastily and knelt before them, crooking a finger under Chérie’s chin and stroking her cheek with his other hand. “I am a liar. Never forget that, Chérie. I will say anything to get what I want.”

Her eyes twinkled. “Really? And are you lying now?”

“No,” he said, but his grin left much room for doubt.

She searched her maker’s eyes that were so like her own blue-gray eyes. Her delicate fingers caressed his face, cradling his beauty between her hands. She pulled him close, raking her fingers back through his hair, causing his chin to tilt upward, until her hands held the back of his neck and their parted lips almost touched.

“Don’t ever lie to me, Lestat,” she whispered, his name coming out as a seduction. She let their lips touch for an instant. “You have only to tell me what you desire and I will give it to you, if it is in my power, up to betraying Louis.”

Lestat seemed entranced, bewitched. But he was not spellbound.

“And what if what I desire is Louis?”

“He is already yours. I would not want to change that even if it was in my power.” She slid from Louis’s lap and knelt beside their maker, their bodies close but not touching.

Lestat drew his finger along her nose and then gathered her into his arms. Gently drawing her hair away from his face, he fixed his eyes on Louis.

“And what if what I desire is you, Chérie?”

Louis saw her back rise and fall with her sigh.

“I am already yours,” she whispered. “Louis knows of my love for you.”

“Does he?” Lestat’s eyes were still on Louis, but his gaze faltered.

“Yes, from the very first night,” Louis said. He needs to hear the words, my love, he said silently.

She pulled back from Lestat, smoothing his hair as she demanded his gaze. She searched his face a long time before she spoke.

“I love you, Lestat.”

Louis saw her grimace slightly as she pierced her own tongue and drew their maker into her embrace. He watched, fascinated, as the surprise drained from Lestat’s face and he surrendered to the kiss. He heard his maker pierce his own tongue and saw their embrace deepen, Lestat lifting her from the carpet until he held her entire form in his arms.

Quietly, their lips parted, changing to smaller and smaller kisses. Chérie gazed up into Lestat’s eyes and smiled.

“Now tell me what you meant by wedding gift.”

Louis smiled.

Lestat laughed and would have spoken, but just then the front door burst open and Daniel stumbled into the room.

Chérie was instantly beside him, concern filling her face.

“What’s wrong?” she demanded as she pried Daniel’s portable computer from his fingers, quickly setting it upon a table.

The young vampire fought to regain his breath. “Turn on the television!”

“What?” Louis asked, but he reached for the remote and clicked on the set. The mammoth screen blazed to life, it’s amplified sound seemingly alien.

Chérie put Daniel in Lestat’s chair and then perched on its arm, her hand on his shoulder.

“News!” Daniel said. “Find the news.”

Louis flipped to the cable news channel. The tape they were airing was shaky, a hand-held camera jostling to get the picture.

“...hoax. The witness believed dead has allegedly just completed a sworn affidavit before Dade County officials.”

“Dade County,” Chérie whispered. “That’s Florida.”

Louis nodded, searching the crowds still shown on screen. A bright light fell upon the object of the camera’s search, a young man with long dark curls, a thin hand shielding his face as he kept his back to the light. Louis gasped as the auburn of the hair became evident.


“Armand? But I thought...” Chérie began, but Lestat held up his hand for silence.

“...held earlier at a local radio station,” the reporter droned on. “But reports indicate officials from the Justice Department, in full cooperation with the district attorney’s office, did indeed take a statement from the unidentified man, who was allegedly the first witness to the veracity of the Veil of Veronica. Statements taken at the time all reported the man had spontaneously combusted, bursting into flames and dying instantly. It now seems these reports were greatly exaggerated....”

The picture switched to the station’s studio and a man in a tailored suit. Louis clicked off the set and, dropping the remote, buried his face in his hands.

No one spoke.

Alive. Armand was alive. Louis felt his tears gathering, tears he had not wept for Armand’s passing flowed now. He dug a handkerchief out of his pocket. He had never forgiven Armand for his part in Claudia’s death and he had been so cruel to the auburn-haired vampire. For decades, he let Armand hope for more than Louis had ever had any intention of giving. Suddenly there was hope. He looked up at Daniel’s moan.

“He’s alive,” the young vampire muttered. “The son of a bitch is alive!” He was trembling uncontrollably, his eyes wide. His hands dug frantically in his pockets for the cigarettes he had not carried in more than a decade.

Louis quickly knelt before him.

“You’re all right, Daniel,” he soothed. “You’re safe with us and you’re stronger than you were then.”

“I know, Louis,” Daniel said. “But why? Why did he do it?”

Louis slowly shook his head. He had no answer for his adopted fledgling.

“He can’t harm you,” Chérie assured him.

“Of course he can,” Daniel whispered. “He already has. He lied to me. He let me think he was dead.”

Lestat had risen, staring at the blank screen as if images still flickered there.

“He had no choice, Daniel. Did you see his skin? His hand had been burned. To them,” he waved his hand at the screen but abruptly halted as he inspected his own lightly browned flesh, flexing his fingers and turning them before his eyes. “To mortals it is no more than a Miami tan. But he was burnt.”

“Do you think he’s been underground?” Louis asked.

Lestat slowly nodded. “Probably. The pain is terrible and other than taking old blood, healing blood from the ancient ones, going underground is the safest way to heal.” He turned and strode to where his leather jacket lay.

“You’re going to him?” Chérie asked as he pulled on the jacket and tied back his hair.


Louis frowned. “The sun has already risen there, Lestat.”

“I know. I’ll go the long way and be there when he awakens.”

“What will you do to him?” Daniel asked hesitantly.

Lestat smiled warmly. “Nothing. Don’t worry, Daniel. I only need to speak with him.”

“Then take me with you!”

“No, Daniel,” Lestat said firmly. “You wouldn’t survive the route I’m taking. When you rise, Louis and Chérie can bring you east, safely.”

“You think he’s back on the Night Island?” Chérie asked.

“That seems pretty clear. Or he would have staged his resurrection elsewhere.” He opened the door and breathed in the cool air.

Louis laid a hand gently on his maker’s shoulder and Lestat turned to embrace him.

“And how are you, Lestat? Does this change everything?”

“I don’t know, Louis.” Lestat closed his eyes. “Perhaps it’s simply Memnoch’s final trick. I don’t know.”

“Remember that we love you,” Louis whispered, kissing his maker on both cheeks.

Lestat smiled and pulled away. “I will.”

They walked him onto the porch.

“We’ll be there as soon as we rise,” Louis said.

Lestat nodded and disappeared into the night, rising faster than even preternatural eyes could follow.

Louis stared into the night sky, as if his eyes still beheld his maker against the stars. They never spoke of it, but he knew Lestat’s love for the auburn-haired vampire. He recalled a note his maker had once left for him in their townhouse in New Orleans. The fine parchment had appeared to be abandoned mistakenly, but he knew Lestat, well enough to know he had placed it with care where Louis was sure to find it. His maker’s flowing hand had filled the sheet.

“‘How strong could love grow if you had eternity to nourish it,’” he said, repeating the words Lestat had written, and later embellished for one of his books. He did not believe they were written with Armand in mind, but they seemed to fit nonetheless.

Chérie nodded and wandered back into the house, Louis about to follow.

“I don’t know what I’ll say to him,” Daniel said, sitting on the porch step.

“Neither do I,” Louis admitted. He let the screen close and descended the two steps, tipping his head back to gaze at the stars over the roof. A light breeze lifted the hair off his neck momentarily. Cool but with the promise of another warm day, and Chérie sleeping in a lightweight tee-shirt again. Not an unpleasant prospect. The neighboring houses were all dark and the night was still but for the rustling leaves in the twisted walnut tree. A luxuriant California night. The young vampire glanced up at him.

“What can I say to him?” Daniel raked his fingers through his ashen hair. “I’ve hated him for dying, for leaving me.”

“Tell him what you want to tell him, Daniel,” Louis said. “But be truthful with yourself and tell him everything. You are his firstborn, his only child, and if what Lestat says is true, he will have gone through a terrible ordeal.”

Daniel closed his eyes as a gust swirled about them. “Until tonight,” he said quietly, “I could not picture his face, no matter how hard I tried. Now it’s all I can see and I can’t imagine it otherwise.”

Louis nodded, pushing his black hair away from his face. “For me, as well. I knew a lifetime with Armand but could not be the thing he wanted. I was incapable of feeling for his passing. Yet all I want is to see him again. Alive. Beautiful and alive.”

Daniel’s violet eyes misted and his lips moved as if to speak but in the end, he simply pressed them together, finding no words.

Louis watched him, hearing the turmoil in his thoughts. So much pain, and guilt. Daniel had regressed terribly after Armand’s death, falling back onto old habits, traveling aimlessly, spending most of his waking hours haunting taverns in the most dismal corners of the world’s great cities. He had spent exorbitant amounts rashly, almost contemptuously. He bought jets and then abandoned them, impatient to be wherever he was not. Securing leases in whatever building was within sight when he wanted to rest, staying only until sunset and never returning. The fortune Armand had amassed would not endure. Daniel had not created the wealth, only moved it between brokers and bankers, and he made no attempt to use his gifts as Armand had. The small fees he had been paid when he roused himself long enough to write up one of his interviews and the royalties on Louis’s book were Daniel’s only sources of income. And his feeding had become careless, his kills often flagrantly brutal and grisly, drawing mortal attention, so much so that even Lestat had commented.

Late last summer, Louis had begun searching out the ashen-haired vampire, once the mortal boy he had fed upon, forever altering the young man’s life. Responsibility, yes, he could not deny he felt that for Daniel, but there was more. And Chérie had encouraged him for she too felt an affection for Daniel, though they had never met, for his part in bringing them together. By early autumn, Louis had arranged a meeting with the young vampire. And Daniel had come to live with them in Chérie’s little house.

It had been difficult at first, Daniel’s lethargy unshakable, and at times he simply circled the backyard for hours. Incoherent mumbling. Bitter cackling. Silent torment.

Then Chérie had discovered his venerate fear of Louis and Lestat, the impossible images he had of them, mired in his memory. They worked constantly to dispel these myths, opening a door Daniel could finally step through.

He slowly came back to life, remembering those things Armand had taught him, concealing his kills, hearing what they had to tell him. They took great care, only augmenting his maker’s lessons. Then Daniel had taken up the pen once more. At first, he simply transcribed the bags of cassette tapes he had accumulated, his agent negotiating the publication of an anthology of his interviews. But now he was immersed in something larger as he waited to begin work on Louis’s book, his little portable computer a constant companion. Daniel’s laughter was coming easily again, the cynicism fading.

And now this.

Louis sat beside Daniel. “You must tell Armand what is most important to you. He will want to know your pain. Hearing it will be as vital to him as the telling will be to you.”

“I just want to hear his voice again,” Daniel suddenly choked out, gulping back the sobs that threatened to consume him. He wasn’t ready for it, not yet. He opened his eyes wide so the early morning air could dry his tears before they spilled. “I want to hear his voice. He told me once that what scared him most was dying. It has been an endless nightmare, thinking of him trapped with the one thing that terrified him.”

Louis wrapped an arm around Daniel’s shoulders and squeezed him gently.

“Oh God,” Daniel moaned, swiping at his eyes with both hands. “I’m such a mess.”

Louis smiled and slowly shook his head. “No. Just in love.”

Daniel laughed wistfully. “Yeah.”

Chérie popped her head out the door. “Good time for a break?”

“Please!” Daniel pleaded half-jokingly.

Louis rose and she instantly stole his seat, smiling up at him innocently. She so enchanted him, more beautiful than Armand had ever been because she was real. Armand had been almost a fantasy to him, abstract. There was a purity in how Chérie loved him, a celebration of life. Eve in the Garden, before there was guilt. Lestat’s Dark Blood had only magnified the joy she bestowed, allowing her to love what he loved, what Lestat loved, what Daniel loved. And their ecstasy seemed to feed her, creating an ever-increasing spring from which they happily drank.

Love begets love.

Louis smiled. Perhaps Lestat did indeed drink of Christ’s blood. It had been difficult to completely believe until there was Chérie, his only fledgling created of that blood.

Chérie pulled a thin, white cylinder from her shirt pocket and pressed it between her lips.

“You still smoke?” Daniel asked, surprised.

“Once or twice,” she admitted, giving her shoulders a little shrug. “I keep a pack in the back of the freezer. Would you like one?”

“God, yes!” He grinned as she pulled a second cigarette from her pocket.

“I thought you might,” she teased. “It’s really awful so don’t take a big hit. But then, we never smoked for the taste, did we?” She laughed.

He shook his head as his fingers caressed the thin white paper. “How did you know we could still smoke?”

“We breathe it every day,” she said, making an expansive gesture and then nudging his shoulder playfully. “You probably more so, with as much time as you spend in bars.” She carefully lit the cigarettes with a small butane lighter, Daniel drawing the smoke cautiously into his lungs and still choking somewhat.

“God! That’s terrible!”

“Hey, I warned you.”

Louis bent to kiss her cheek and went into the house, leaving them to their mortal pleasures. Chérie had become surrogate mother to Daniel, but they were contemporaries as well, Daniel being only four years her senior. He had already been a vampire a decade, however, when she was Born to Darkness, and his help had been invaluable to her as she became accustomed to her new life. They often chatted for hours, their language at times incomprehensible. He and Lestat would tease them by weaving the modern words into their speech, the effect perfectly ghastly, or by slipping into the archaic French patois of the plantation.

He smiled as he sat on the divan, shucking his boots and socks. He was glad they’d found friendship. So difficult to be alone with your age. Perhaps that is what had disturbed him most about Armand. The auburn-haired vampire had no one of his age he could relax with, he had been in perpetual need of translation.

Is in need. Armand. Alive.

Louis picked up the remote and with his thumb circled its buttons thoughtfully before he clicked on the set. As commercial gave way to sportscaster, he carried his boots to their bedroom. Dawn approached and he had already begun longing to stretch out in the coffin. Not yet.

The carpet felt good beneath his naked feet. Though walking around partially undressed still seemed improper to him, he was adjusting to the custom. Chérie did it, as did Daniel. And Lestat did as he pleased, as he had always done.

Another advertisement screamed from the set as he regained his place on the divan. It mercifully faded and the picture returned to what the announcer labeled “the top story of the day.”

Louis felt Daniel tense as Armand was described as the “alleged witness.” He called to him silently. Come inside. See with your own eyes.

Chérie held the door for the young vampire, before lounging in the big chair. Daniel sat next to Louis on the divan, close to the television.

“Is it really him?” Chérie asked.

The footage showed the front of an office building, the witness pushing through the doors and being mobbed by reporters. He wore a linen suit in taupe, a loose-woven sweater in the same beige under the lightweight coat. Whenever a light flared, he brought his hand up to block its brilliance. Between the flashes, though, his face was clear, his soft brown eyes meeting each questioner, his lips moving in response.

“Yes, that is Armand,” Louis answered.

Armand neared the camera and a foam-covered microphone was thrust into view.

“Why are you coming forward now?” the reporter asked.

Daniel became like stone, holding his breath.

The auburn-haired vampire continued walking as he stared into the lens that kept pace with him. It seemed almost as if he was watching them watching him.

“People are being hurt,” Armand said, his voice unstrained by the press of mortal bodies. “Good people, people I love, and innocent strangers. This cannot go on.”

He was lost to the camera as he was jostled forward.

“Is the Veil of Veronica genuine?” the reporter yelled.

“I don’t know,” he said as the camera found him again, half-turned. The rest of his answer was lost as the crowd closed behind him. The picture continued as they had seen earlier.

“He is alive,” Daniel whispered. “It was his voice.” He laughed quietly. “What he calls his mortal voice, but it was his. I didn’t see the whole thing before. I was over at Mike’s,” he said, naming the nearby tavern and all-night coffee shop he frequented. “As soon as I realized what was going on, I ran home.” He sat back and smiled, his entire face alight. “Incredible!”

Louis returned his smile.

“Even in the lights, he passed for mortal,” Chérie observed.

“Yes, my love,” Louis said. “And his flesh. Lestat was correct, he was burned.”

“What it took to stand waiting for the sun.” She shook her head. “I can’t imagine it. And was it all an act? Could he fool Lestat so completely?”

Daniel laughed and slowly nodded his head. “Oh yeah. Armand can make you believe anything he wants you to believe.”

“And it didn’t hurt that Lestat was beside himself,” Louis added. To Chérie, he explained. “Armand is a spellbinder. We all have this ability, but none so much as he. Armand can immobilize you with a thought, make you see, hear, even feel things that aren’t there. I myself have felt this, though it was long ago.”

Chérie’s eyes grew wide, though not at anything Louis had said. She raised a pale, delicate hand toward the television, where a shrouded gurney was shown being loaded into an ambulance. The newscaster’s voice droned.

“...and televangelist, Theodora Flynn, who had made public the alleged Veil of Veronica, is dead, reportedly at her own hands. Neighbors claim she became distraught over the allegations of fraud that were raised....”

Louis clicked off the set. “Dora. My God!”

“The woman who gave Lestat the orphanage?” Daniel asked.

Louis nodded, holding a hand to his mouth, a thumb pressed to his lips. How would this affect Lestat? His maker had obsessed over the mortal and had then fallen to pieces, haunting the orphanage, lost among the nameless little spirits. Could this push him back into despair?

Chérie rose slowly from her chair. “There’s nothing we can do until sunset and I’m feeling positively leaden. Louis?” She held out her hand.

He took it and rose. “You’re right, my love. It’s time to rest.”

She leaned to kiss Daniel on the cheek and then disappeared down the hall.

Louis turned to the young vampire. “Are you coming?”

Daniel shook his head. “In a minute. Tell me something, Louis. Tell me the truth. Will you fight Armand for me?”

Louis was surprised by the question. “If something is terribly wrong and you need me to, yes.” He smiled warmly as he suddenly realized Daniel’s concern. “But I suspect you will stay with Armand. He loves you as no other can. You know me well enough to know I only want you to be happy. But understand this, Daniel. You will always have a home with me. No strings attached.”

“Thank you, Louis.” Daniel rose and embraced him.

Louis squeezed his adopted fledgling quickly before following Chérie to their bedroom.

Daniel sat back on the divan and clicked on the television. The news channel was repeating their top story. The young vampire listened as the reporter asked his question and he again heard that most wonderful sound. His maker’s voice.

“Armand,” he whispered as the blood tears tumbled down his cheeks.

Night Two

The Night Island

They alighted on the rooftop of the seemingly deserted structure. Daniel rubbed his arms for warmth once Chérie released him, pulling the knitted cap off his head and running his fingers through his hair.

Louis circled warily, searching. He did not sense anything amiss, but he was proceeding cautiously nevertheless, keeping his mind closed. He didn’t know why Daniel had chosen the roof rather than one of the terraces, but he was content to allow the young vampire the lead. Daniel knew the Night Island better than anyone. He owned it.

And there were already more variables in this reunion than Louis cared to confront at once.

Armand was territorial, more so than any other vampire he knew. Would he view Louis’s mentoring of Daniel as a violation of his domain? And if Armand considered Louis still his, Chérie could be in danger for the same reason. Armand had killed the young ones, many of their kind.

Then there was the matter of Lestat. The trio had ascended into the California night within minutes of Louis’s awakening, but the sun off the coast of Miami was more than four hours gone by that time. They had ridden the fastest air currents to cross the continent, protecting Daniel as best they could from the thin air and biting cold, but that again had taken time. Nearly six hours had Lestat had, alone with Armand. Had his maker’s meeting with the auburn-haired vampire gone well or had Lestat’s notorious temper gotten the better of him? Louis sighed, breathing deeply of the salty coastal air.

“This way,” Daniel said, holding aloft a set of keys.

Chérie took Louis’s hand as they followed the young vampire across the vast roof to an access door.

Louis turned, scanning behind them. “How long since you’ve been here, Daniel?”

“Right after the news came of Armand’s death,” Daniel said, already working a key into the third lock. “I think I was here for about two months, but I’m not sure. Time lost all meaning for me.” He unlatched the fourth lock. “I just sat in his suite. It looked so much like the last vision he gave me, of the Villa of the Mysteries.” Daniel tapped out the combination on the electronic keypad beside the door and its indicator flashed from amber to green. He lifted the handle and the door began to swing open, only to halt abruptly.

“Shit! I forgot. I set the New York lock from the inside before I left.” His fingers played along the scant opening but there was not enough room for them to slip inside. Daniel’s lips set and his cheeks flushed with anger.

“Screw this,” he muttered and furiously kicked the door. It twisted back hideously on its hinges.

“Subtle.” Louis laughed quietly. It wasn’t often the young vampire so blatantly demonstrated his strength.

Daniel gave his shoulders a shrug. “Hey, it’s my door. And it only opens onto the stairwell. There’s another one inside that leads directly into the villa, with a whole different set of locks. And another one of these.” He shook the steel bar that had held the door fast against mortal intruders.

“It would probably be easier just going in the door you used when you left,” Chérie suggested. “Not to mention quieter.” She grinned.

“Then it’s down to the concourse,” Daniel said, leading the way past the wrecked door. Three floors and five locks later, vacant mall shops stretching out in either direction, they were standing before an unmarked door that seemed protected only by a keypad.

Louis stared blankly at the electronic lock. “I remember using a key on this door.”

“We changed it after everyone drifted off. Too many keys were unaccounted for.” Daniel sighed, staring at the indicator winking amber. “I have to enter three series of numbers within a few seconds,” he explained. “If I screw up even one of them, it trips the entire system and we’re locked out for an hour. I hate this lock. Armand kept setting the timer shorter and shorter to see if I could do it.” He glanced over his shoulder at Louis and Chérie. “So don’t bug me,” he admonished, winking.

The pair smiled.

Daniel took a deep breath and poised his fingers over the keypad. Before he could again move, the indicator suddenly blinked from amber to green. He stumbled back from the door as if it was a viper.

“He’s here,” the young vampire whispered. “Christ! He is here.”

“Well, someone is here,” Louis said warily, moving beside the door and drawing Chérie behind him.

Daniel swallowed hard and pushed the door open. Louis and Chérie followed as Daniel entered the villa.

Louis swung the door shut behind them, feeling the tumblers automatically fall into place. He turned and followed down the dark hallway, emerging to see Daniel transfixed on a silhouetted figure across the room. Candles blazed in the candelabra atop the enormous piano behind the spectre. Chérie threw Louis a furtive glance, holding her interlocked hands to her mouth. Louis stepped up behind Daniel and gently laid a hand on his shoulder.

Daniel’s trembling hand touched Louis’s fingers, as if for strength, before he stepped forward, tentatively approaching the spectre with the long curling hair. He had not crossed half the distance when it seemed his knees would buckle.

Both Louis and the shadowy figure hastened to keep Daniel from falling. Reaching him first, Louis firmly grasped the young vampire under the arms, only to find himself staring over the ashen hair and into a pair of soft, dark brown eyes suddenly just inches away. His breath caught in his throat.

“Armand,” Daniel whispered, legs slowly straightening, his fingers gingerly touching the scorched, yet radiant flesh of his maker’s face. So like a mortal suntan.

Louis smiled. He steadied Daniel and then gently pressed him forward.

Armand’s arms quickly enfolded his fledgling, drawing him close as his eyes shut, lips parting as if in ecstasy.

Love, that too is passion, Louis told the auburn-haired vampire silently.

Armand’s eyes shot open and Louis smiled. Yes, I can hear you now. Beware, my friend. Beware.

A faint smile curled Armand’s lips as his gaze shifted to his fledgling, his child. He took Daniel’s face in both hands, searching the young vampire’s violet eyes before crushing him to him again.

Daniel lay limp in his arms, eyes squeezed tightly shut, his shoulders rising sharply with each labored breath.

“Daniel. Again you are a gift to me from Louis,” Armand said, sighing. “From his very hands.” His vampiric voice was seduction itself, mesmerizing and sensuous.

A gasp escaped Daniel’s lips and his arms instantly surrounded his maker’s waist. They knitted across Armand’s back briefly, fervently, before one long arm snaked over his maker’s shoulder and Daniel buried his face in the auburn curls. He breathed deeply as his pale cheek intimately brushed against the tanned cheek and his lips found his maker’s flesh, the delicate impression beyond his ear, nuzzling closer and kissing him again.

Louis glanced down and smiled as Chérie slipped her hand around his arm. Her eyes were veiled in crimson, her affection for their adopted fledgling undisguised. He followed her gaze as he covered her hand with his.

Armand’s expression was unreadable as his eyes met Louis’s. “You will excuse us a few moments. Lestat is on the living room terrace. We’ll join you there, and then,” his dark brown eyes shifted briefly to Chérie, “and then we can make the introductions.”

Louis nodded and led Chérie up the wide stairs. As they emerged on the second floor, he glanced back. Armand and Daniel had already withdrawn.

Chérie marveled at the vast room, awash in the glow of a few carefully placed candles. Luster of leather and marble and velvet. Tapestries and chandeliers. A chessboard, a game in progress. She sat and studied the board.

“Do not disturb anything, my love,” he warned gently.

“I remember,” she said, smiling up at him and kissing his long fingers before releasing his hand. They had agreed she should carefully observe the old etiquette until Armand welcomed her. If he welcomed her....

Louis tarried before a painting, Picasso, before he crossed the room and stepped into the breeze that came from the terrace, the doors all pushed wide. Against the rail leaned Lestat, the Miami skyline a halo around him.

He paused. It was an astonishing sight, his maker appeared as he imagined the archangel had to the shepherds near long-ago Bethlehem. Louis’s approach was reverent as he moved close enough to run his hand along the narrow lapel of Lestat’s tailored coat, the heavy gray velvet reassuringly familiar beneath his fingers. He smiled.

“I remember this suit.”

Lestat tossed his hair back from his eyes and shrugged. “It was in my study where I’d left it. Go figure.”

Louis’s green eyes twinkled as he leaned beside Lestat, crossing his arms over his chest.

“So have you decided yet who has the better tan?”

“Don’t play the imbecile, Louis,” his maker said, a cruel smile twisting his lips. “I do, of course.”

Louis laughed aloud. “Where has he been?”

“Underground,” Lestat said, his tone implying there had never been any other possible answer. “In Central Park, if you can believe that.”

“Many places there to find an unsuspecting victim.”

Lestat nodded in agreement. “What’s surprising is that he told me at all. It’s so...candid of him.” He looked both puzzled and amused.

“Did he tell you, Lestat?” Louis asked suspiciously. “He seems in extraordinarily good shape for what he’s been through. Not a blemish on him other than that perfect tan. I can sense no discomfort at all.”

His maker grinned mischievously.

“Don’t deny it. You let him drink from you,” Louis teased.

Lestat furrowed his brow, appearing annoyed, though his eyes danced. “I gave him a few swallows. So what? And I didn’t even make him ask for it.” He idly inspected his nails before unfurling a finger towards the villa. “You would have as well if you had seen the pain he was in.”

“And precisely how much did that cost our auburn-haired friend?”

Anger tinged those fierce blue-gray eyes. “How dare you! I did it for compassion’s sake. Do you forget I know that pain?”

“Come on, Lestat,” Louis said, tipping his head to look at his maker and grinning. “Don’t bullshit me.”

Lestat winced dramatically. “Oh, please Louis! The language doesn’t suit you. Really.”

“So tell me.”

His maker’s shoulders fell with his sigh. He scowled at his fledgling. “Why can I deny you nothing? For a few precious seconds, Louis, an eternity really, his mind was mine.”

Louis beamed. “You drank from him then, as well.”

Up flew Lestat’s hands. “Yes, yes, yes! I needed blood if I was to give it.”


“Knock that off,” Lestat glowered, but Louis could see he had already lost control. His maker broke into a fit of giggles.

Louis smiled, delighting in the sudden mirth.

Lestat wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and then licked away the blood tears, ever the provincial lord.

“Tease,” Louis whispered.

His maker leered at him and then sighed. “You don’t blame me, do you Louis? He never allows anyone in and it was far too tempting to pass up.”

“No, I suppose not, though he’s let you in freely enough in the past. You have an intimacy with Armand I never had, relegated as we were to using words.” He shook his head and laughed lightly. “But I wasn’t sure if you wouldn’t simply rip his heart out for the deception he pulled.”

Lestat suddenly seemed distant, his eyes drifting off to somewhere unseen. “I won’t lie and tell you I hadn’t considered it. But what was the use, truly? It was time for the charade to end anyway.”

“Perhaps,” Louis said, draping an arm across his maker’s back and clasping his neck. “Do you know about Dora?”

The full head of yellow hair nodded slowly.

“Are you all right, Lestat?” Louis’s voice was soft, filled with concern.

“Yes.” Lestat turned and leaned both hands on the railing, staring intensely across the water at the teeming city. “She was dead the moment she touched the Veil. I saw it then. Everything she ever was ceased to exist. All because of some thing.” He spat out the last word.

Louis watched Lestat’s lips draw taut, yet no less sensual. He listened in fascination as his maker continued quietly.

“I think I understand it all now, Louis.” Lestat frowned. “No, that’s a lie. I won’t understand it all until I finally die, and perhaps not even then. The only absolute truth I’ve gleaned from this is that I don’t ever want to die.” He glanced at his fledgling and a fleeting affection deepened the dimples at the corners of his mouth. “Or you. I couldn’t bear your death.”

“I don’t want you to die either,” Louis admitted, though his cheeks flushed. “You’ve brooded about it a long time, Lestat. Since Akasha made you stronger than all of us. Since she gave you a taste of being a god here on earth. You’ve long been alone with that knowledge, the possibility of outliving us all, that nothing on earth could kill you.” He sought his maker’s blue-gray eyes. “Are you finished with trying to end it, Lestat? Will you stay with us now?”

Lestat shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, Louis. I hope so, more than I’ve dared hope since the concert.” He touched Louis’s cheek. “Since I had you with me again.” He laughed and raked his hair back away from his face. “For the first time in ages, it feels like this is enough. But who knows how long this will last?”

Louis smiled as he studied his boots. “I suppose forever would be too much to ask,” he said under his breath. He glanced up and, seeing amusement in his maker’s smile, shook his head gently. “No, don’t bother, Lestat. It’s just a wish. Tell me what new understanding you’ve found.”

Shaking his mop of blond curls, his maker sighed, resigned. “Hopelessly sentimental.” Lestat returned his gaze to the glimmering Miami skyline.

Captivated, but by what? Louis watched his maker slowly lower his eyes, a malignant smile curling his lips.

“Memnoch--” He abruptly halted and laughed cruelly. “No, never again that name. Satan,” he began again, pointedly, “showed me Heaven and Hell, all of history, simply to confuse me. He wanted no more than to enthrall me with the telling.” His gaze shifted to his fledgling as if to assure himself Louis was listening. “Do you know what gave it away for me, Louis?”

“No. Tell me, Lestat.”

“It was his story of being trapped in a mortal body. Everything he said was aimed at entangling me into comparing his choices with ones I myself have made, to make me identify with him. I don’t believe he hoped I would ever agree to become his lieutenant. I’d turned down Akasha, after all, and he had to know the princely reign he would ultimately offer me was far more loathsome. But he left that open just in case. You never can tell with me.” He smiled. “I think you’ll like this part, Louis. Remember how, beforehand, I heard fleeting bits of his conversation with God?”

“Yes, I remember.”

Lestat turned and faced his fledgling. “And of all the biblical tales, of which does it remind you most?”

“Job,” Louis said without hesitation. “How the Devil petitioned God before testing Job’s faith.” His green eyes alight, he smiled at his maker. “A righteous soul. You know, I can’t recall a single tale where the Devil propositioned a soul that was already damned, Lestat. Whatever else occurred, you didn’t make a pact with the Devil. God was right about you.”

“Was He? Perhaps. He only said He saw me differently,” Lestat said with a shrug. “I wonder if He thought I would accept Satan’s terms. If He did, I think I surprised Him. Satan knew how I’d react. The Devil used me for his ends, to unleash a blind, religious wave upon humanity. Turning over the Veil to me was God’s agreement to the test. Had it come from any other hands, I would not have accepted it. Satan knew this.”

Louis shook his head. “God must surely know your longing for goodness, this yearning you’ve given me.” His eyes grew wide in wonder. “He knew your name, Lestat, and allowed you to hear His voice! Perhaps it was only to serve His ends, but perhaps He did so out of an individual love for you.”

Lestat shrugged. “I don’t know, Louis. Perhaps. But Satan didn’t want me to hear, and I can’t forget the heartbreak in God’s voice when He saw me in Satan’s company. And I’m fairly certain His invitation to drink was not in the Devil’s plan.” He searched his fledgling’s eyes. “It’s His goodness you feel, from His blood.”

“No, Lestat. That is there, certainly, but there is more.” Louis mused quietly, knitting his brow. It was difficult to explain. “I believe you have lived with this hunger so long, since you were mortal, that you aren’t consciously aware of it anymore. Not of how strong it is.” He smiled. “You know, it sounds as if you understand more than you give yourself credit for, Lestat. Satan showed you all those things, enfolded you in the telling, but still you saw the trap.”

Lestat gazed back at the city. “Not before fulfilling his plan, however. Or God’s plan.” He gave a tiny shake of his head and shrugged. “Was it all true? I don’t know. I believe so.”

“You don’t think he lied to you, then?” Louis asked.

Lestat smirked. “Oh, he lied to me all right. His lie was that it had nothing to do with Dora.” He clamped his eyes shut for a brief moment, tipping his head back, and then opening them full to the heavens. “The entire thing was about Dora. It was she who finally did his bidding, she who failed his test.”

Louis nodded. “‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’”

“Yes, exactly. Heaven was beauty and love and knowledge, Louis, not things. The Veil might as well be a golden calf.” Lestat absently twisted a strand of his hair.

“Do not fear, Lestat,” came a sonorous voice from the villa.

Maker and fledgling turned to see Armand, resplendent in crushed black linen, step onto the terrace and gracefully cross the distance to them. He took the yellow hair from Lestat’s hand and carefully smoothed it back.

“No one truly believes you are a god,” he finished, his youthful smile entrancing. And then he reached out and mussed the blond mass of curls.

Lestat laughed aloud, giving him a murderous grin before shaking his hair back into place.

Armand turned to Louis and ran the back of his browned hand down Louis’s pale cheek before drawing him into a kiss too brief for the passion it held. Then Armand laid a hand on each of their shoulders and looked slowly from one to the other.

“I thank you both for watching over my Daniel,” he said quietly.

Lestat dipped his chin in acknowledgment and Louis simply smiled at his old companion, his eyes liquid.

We need to talk.

I know. Armand’s face lost all expression. We have much to forgive each other.

Louis glanced up, causing Armand to turn as Daniel emerged on the terrace with Chérie, their right hands clasped. Daniel guided her into Louis’s arms.

He tipped her chin up and kissed her.

“Ah, so lovely,” Armand whispered. “Louis, in love again.” His gaze met Chérie’s. “Is there anything more beautiful in the world?”

She shook her head softly. “No, I don’t believe there is.” She smiled, searching his dark brown eyes boldly, as if they were precious stones.

Armand straightened suddenly and extended his hand formally, gently taking her fingers and pressing them to his silken lips.

“I am Armand. You are welcome in my home.”

“Thank you, Armand.” Chérie seemed transfixed as the auburn-haired vampire warmed her hand between his. He smiled disarmingly.

“I can do no less for his fledgling than he has done for mine.”

“No, she is Lestat’s child,” Louis corrected.

Armand’s eyes grew wide and he whirled on Lestat.

“You made her?” He grabbed Lestat’s hand and as quickly flicked it away from him. “With this blood, you made her?”

“Indeed,” Lestat said, one eyebrow raised smugly. “And charmingly so, don’t you think?”

Armand turned back to Chérie, pausing for her nod before he again took her hand, seeming to feel for the first time the hardness of her alabaster flesh, the powerful blood pulsing through her veins.

Louis surrounded their clasped hands with both of his.

“Armand, this is Chérie. My sister. My lover. As I am her brother, her mate.” He slid her hand out of Armand’s grasp, gently to cause no offense, and held it to his breast. His desire for her rose and he felt his heartbeat quicken. But he only held her hand and smiled into her hypnotic blue-gray eyes.

I have never felt more loved, they told him.

The auburn-haired vampire scowled. “And you agreed to this, Lestat?”

Lestat pushed away from the balcony and rested a hand on Armand’s shoulder. “I first searched her thoughts carefully. She did not want the Dark Gift, yet she asked for it. There was no guilt, no anger, no fear.”

“I only wanted Louis, to stand with him the rest of his days,” she whispered. “And he could not become as I was.” Chérie smiled up into Louis’s eyes.

Lestat waved a hand delicately at Chérie. “And mademoiselle had unwittingly devised a way to finally give Louis the gift he so needed to become the vampire he has become. Look at him, Armand!”

Armand shook his head. He had already heard Louis speak silently, seen his deepened pallor, and held the hardness of his flesh.

“And your blood did all this?” he asked the yellow-haired vampire.

“No,” Lestat said. “Most of what you see had already been wrought when he summoned me. She had changed him.”

“You exaggerate, mon père,” Chérie protested.

Au contraire, ma petite. Even when he had believed himself happy, Louis always despaired. Don’t you see, Armand? The cloud of gloom is gone!”

Armand searched Louis’s face, puzzled.

Louis laughed aloud. He kissed Chérie’s cheek and draped a long arm around Armand’s shoulders.

“There is an easier way for you to understand,” he said, drawing Armand back into the villa. He paused when he heard Daniel following and glanced back at the young vampire, locking onto his violet eyes.

Daniel’s jaw dropped, his eyes growing wide before he staggered back a few steps and collapsed into a chair.

No harm will come to him, Louis assured him silently. He motioned for Armand to lead the way and smiled when he heard Lestat’s giggling behind them.

Armand was in a rage. “You do this in my own home? Before my very eyes. To my beloved, my Daniel! You insult me in this way?”

“Please, Armand,” Louis soothed. “You of all vampires cannot begrudge me one moment to show off.” He smiled. “Now choose the room.”

“For what purpose?”

“To read my thoughts, of course.”

The auburn-haired vampire halted, shaking his head. “No. This I cannot do.” His gaze narrowed.

Louis sighed. “You do not trust me, Armand?” He searched his friend’s eyes as he concentrated, focusing on a night a century earlier when Armand had led him to the top of a tower on the outskirts of Paris.

The image was clear. He could smell the dust and the rain and feel his body react to the sound of the old chairs as they cracked between Armand’s hands. And they became a fire, luxuriant warmth. But it was the auburn-haired vampire that held his attention. How his pale skin absorbed the firelight. How his eyes beckoned, all promise and desire.

Armand had stepped out of the quiescent image, circling the fire in the gliding fashion he favored in those days, moving without seeming to move. He ran his hand over the remembered clothing, brushing away the moisture, and examining his pallid flesh.

“Why do you give me this vision, Louis?” Armand asked.

Louis leaned against the neglected brick of the tower chamber, disregarding the rain bouncing off his shoulders. “It is a time I felt most loved. There have been but a few such moments in my immortal life and I wanted you to feel the happiness you gave me.” Armand had drawn close in the vision and Louis pulled him tightly to him, stroking his face, lips almost touching.

He opened his eyes, though he couldn’t recall closing them. Armand stood motionless across the villa’s living room.

“Understand that I did not feel that happiness again, not to that depth, until my eyes fell upon Chérie. Now choose the room.”

“The study,” Armand said, waiting for Louis and walking beside him. “But why do you wish for privacy?”

“I seek your comfort,” Louis corrected. “I also chose the vision because it is one we share. Using this gift is still difficult for me and I may need your help.” He ran a hand down over his mouth. “I need your understanding, my friend. I want to open my mind to you completely.”

Armand’s hand darted out and caught him by the shoulder. “Wait. My suite then.” They changed directions. “No one but lovers invite this invasion.”

Louis’s lips parted, curling into a smile. “But we were lovers once.” His smile broadened. “Perhaps my guilt at not giving you what you needed then is working in your favor now. And perhaps I will allow you to take advantage of this weakness.” His green eyes danced mischievously.

Amusement filled the dark brown eyes. “Blood would help further.”

“Ah,” Louis murmured. Armand was still Armand. “Since when do you need blood to violate a willing mind, my friend? Don’t push it, Armand.”

“You would be disappointed if I did not try.”

“Yes,” Louis said, nodding. “I suppose I would. But Lestat has forbidden it.”

“Lestat, who breaks every rule,” Armand scoffed as they stepped into his lush quarters and private study, Venetian artistry surrounding them.

Louis sat on the enormous bed, drawing one leg up under him so he might face Armand as he sat beside him. “I am not Lestat.”

“Thank goodness for that.”

“Goodness, Armand?” Louis raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

Armand smiled. “Yes, goodness. He told you he allowed me to drink?”

Louis nodded.

“What could I gain by denying what you know it holds? You, who were transformed by this blood. Even in that small taste, I knew. I knew.” Pain briefly clouded his brown eyes. “Besides, it was always you, Louis, who had the difficulty believing we could be good.”

They sat quietly. For a hundred years, Louis had existed by the belief that their evil was without question, without gradation. In his pain, he had sought oblivion in a world without feeling.

“Come, my friend. Teach me once again.” Louis extended his hand and sighed as Armand slowly clasped it, so pale against the bronzed flesh. The soft brown eyes found his, and in them he saw the shades of auburn, the sparkle of gold surrounding the engulfing blackness in their center. Spellbinder.

Yes, Armand told him. But you who sees everything needs no teacher. Show me what you will.

And together they touched the rough bark of the sequoia, hands pulling back in unison.

“So empty!” Armand cried softly, glancing at Louis in amazement. “Your entire will bent on holding back the pain. So much pain.”

“Yes,” Louis said and the bark changed. Walnut.

They peered over the hedge at the mortal woman gazing up at them silently, unhurriedly pushing her chocolate tresses back over one shoulder.

“Already she loves me,” Louis told him.

“She knows what you are!” Armand’s surprise filled him. “No fear.”

“Yes, but I am changing.”

“Embracing the pain,” Armand said, nodding. “It warms you.”

“An oracle, she seemed. I saw my humanity again in her.”

Armand knelt beside her, stroking her hair. She reacted to his presence, yet it seemed inconsequential to the vision, which continued as she spoke her metaphor of the tiger and revealed her own pain.

“I cannot be evil,” Louis said. “I feed and find peace in killing because we are predators. I enjoy the kill because we are human predators, sensual beings, with conscious thought and for the same reason I mourn those deaths. There is no evil in this.”

Armand nodded. “It is our nature.” He rose to face Louis and they were inside the little house.

Louis stood with the woman clutched to his breast, revealing his fangs to her wide eyes.

“Such desire!” Armand gasped. “Louis, everything you are wants her.”

“Yes,” Louis said, turning his hungry eyes on Armand. “But you know this moment, my friend, when you will break your most sacred vow and increase our number.”

“Daniel,” Armand whispered.

“Do you feel how it is the same for me? Can you smell her body decaying? Only the scent of her blood is stronger.”


“Oh, yes! She loves and understands what I am. Through her eyes, I can love what I am. I cannot lose this! I will not.”

Her sudden fear pervaded the vision, startling them both.

“What if Lestat rejects you? Her fear is for you, Louis!”

Tears tumbled down Louis’s cheeks. “Yes, when she is in mortal danger, she is frightened for me. Is this not goodness, Armand?”

Louis opened his eyes to find Armand against his breast. He smoothed the shimmering auburn hair, so soft beneath his preternatural flesh. His eyes again closed and the strands lightened with each touch, becoming blond. It was Lestat in his arms.

Armand felt it all, the goodness within Lestat suffusing his tanned expression. “Not damned.”

The moon erupted across the pond, its silver light blinding. And it was Chérie in his arms, Lestat agreeing and naming his conditions.

Armand jerked back from Louis on the bed. “He did not forbid it!”

“He bade me not to dilute the blood. This is what I honor.”

“Honor!” Armand spat.

The vast space of St. Patrick’s Cathedral filled Louis’s vision suddenly. Light poured through the upper reaches of the sanctuary, the colors bleeding down, stretching out like stains of distasteful chemicals. Glaring in his eyes, blinding him. The heat! Oh, dear God, the heat!

Louis cried out and slid from the bed, crashing to his knees, arms up to block the sun’s awesome rays. In the vision, they caught, ablaze as the outer layer of flesh exploded, hair singed away, and he was hurtled from the building, seeking darkness with all preternatural speed. Alone in the subway tunnel, the stench of smoldering flesh reaching his nose, nauseating him, his bloody gorge rising. And the pain! Dear Lord! The pain was everywhere, the fetid breeze feeling as sand rubbed across his raw skin.

He twisted, agonizing as the nightmare sleep descended.

“Daniel!” Louis gasped as his tear-filled eyes shot open in terror. His heels dug into the white carpet, scrambling back against the tall bed. “You were protecting Daniel!” Frantically, he dragged his friend down into his arms, hesitating before touching that scorched flesh, and then crushing Armand to him.

“Drink, my friend. Be healed.”

His lips parted as Armand’s fangs punctured his flesh, the silken lips pressing against his throat, his precious blood pumping over the satiny tongue that caressed the wound. Savoring the intimate pulling on his veins as he held his dear friend.

His vision quickly filled with his penetrating Chérie before pressing Lestat to her, and to his own throat. Then the symphony of her making, the triple exchange of blood.

Armand drew away and Louis sighed as the tender mouth cleaned the remaining blood from where the wounds had been.

The auburn-haired vampire leaned close to search Louis’s eyes as he gashed his own throat.

“Please, Louis.”

He opened his mouth to Armand’s blood, the rich warmth spreading, exciting his veins as he felt his friend’s arms surrounding him. Powerful blood! Old and pure, long-harnessed and coursing through him now. A kinship he knew, Lestat’s blood. And suddenly a deep understanding he’d never known caressed him, flashes of images flowing with each heartbeat. Armand saying the blessing before a meal with his mother and father. Marius’ secret kiss. Market day around the piazza, choosing the armloads of flowers to adorn the palazzo for his Master’s return. And more, all in a few beats of Armand’s heart.

Then the vision filled his being, their last day of companionship, as they parted on the banks of the Mississippi decades earlier. He felt Armand’s consuming sorrow over the change in Louis that had begun at the Théâtre des Vampires. His lost passion, the animation gone from his face. A vicious and empty fiend. Tears overflowed, spilling down his cheeks.

Louis pulled back, his lips gently kissing away the last of the blood as the wound closed. He smiled at Armand, accepting his offered handkerchief.

“I have mourned that loss, as well,” he said aloud. “For a hundred years I fled that terrible pain, forsaking your love to avoid it.” He shook his head sadly. “Can you forgive me?”

Armand seemed astounded. “You ask me for forgiveness? From the pain my desire caused you?”

“Yes.” Louis furrowed his brow. “I let you hope when there was no hope in me. My cruelty continued long after I stopped mourning Claudia, if I ever truly mourned her.”

“And have you forgiven me for her death?” Armand asked.

Louis sighed. “She was my child. Yes, I saw the woman inside the child’s body, but before whatever else I felt for her, she was ever my child and my love for her, a parent’s love. I can never forget, Armand, but I know what it means to me to feel your arms about me again and that I love you despite the hand you had in her death.” He searched the dark brown eyes. “Is that forgiveness?”

Armand laughed, a rare sound that tingled Louis’s ears, causing him to smile.

“And you dare to call me näive!” Armand touched the hard, pallid flesh of Louis’s cheek. “Yes, you have forgiven me. And by the same measure, I have forgiven you.” He sat back and draped an arm over his bent knee, shaking his head in amazement. “Your desire is strong, Louis.”

Louis smiled. “Yes. Would you have me conceal this from you?”

“Do you believe you could?”

“Absolutely. But I have no wish to do so.” He tipped his head and regarded his friend soberly. “I have done that far too much already. That time is past.” He laughed quietly. “Armand, I am glad to see you again. Happier than I could have imagined. But you are correct, I no longer seek a teacher. Only a dear friend.” He extended his hand to Armand.

The auburn-haired vampire took Louis’s powerful fingers in his, stroking the hardened flesh. “Yes, you are much changed. It is good what Lestat has done in helping awaken you.”

“And Chérie?”

Armand nodded thoughtfully. “The first truly good vampire. It is difficult to grasp, but to see the passion again in your eyes? How can I not believe this has happened?” His gaze narrowed, puzzling. “And she sees no evil in what we are, even now?”

Wonder filled Louis’s eyes. “None at all. She accepts the killing as she does breathing or sleeping.” He sighed deeply. “But in refusing me as her maker, in refusing to increase my torment, she showed me my evil. That in denying my powers, in denying my love for what Lestat had given me and had yet to give, I killed needlessly and created my own hell.” He smiled warmly. “The only one damning me was me. And once that deceitful voice fell silent, I could finally embrace the truths I had known all along, what Lestat had so desperately forced me into acknowledging, and what you had patiently shown me, my friend.”

Armand smiled. “Chérie is strong, to do all this.”

Louis stood, relieved to hear his friend speak her name. There was a familiar intimacy in using their names, something he knew Armand respected. He drew the auburn-haired vampire to his feet.

“Yes, but she is so young still,” Louis said. “She needs to feed. I can feel it, though she is trying to wait for the desire to rise in me. But it will not for a time yet.” He gave his shoulders a slow shrug. “This change was more rapid in me.”

“You want me to take her with us when we go into the city, Daniel and I?”

“Yes. I tried to teach her as you taught me, to call Those Who Would Die, but their pain about suffocated her. I don’t think I taught her well, my friend,” Louis admitted. “It’s not my way.”

“And you want her to find her own way.” Armand smiled. “Yes, I will do this for you, Louis.”

“Thank you, Armand,” Louis said, clasping the tanned hands in his. “And now we should return before Daniel has a cow.”

Armand winced. “What does this mean, to have a cow?”

Louis laughed as they left the room, causing his friend to smile.

When they emerged in the living room moments later, they found Daniel pacing furiously. Without a shred of fear, he stormed up to Louis.

“Don’t you ever do that to me again!”

Chérie jumped up from her chair at the chessboard, leaving Lestat giggling and contemplating his next move. She caught the young vampire by the shoulders and pushed him down onto the gray, velvet-covered divan.

“Don’t have a cow, Daniel!” she scolded.

Louis glanced at Armand and they shared a smile. Armand lowered himself beside his fledgling and smoothed back the ashen hair lovingly.

“You two are a terrible influence on Louis,” he teased. He whispered something to Daniel in a long-forgotten Russian dialect, his tone both seductive and soothing.

Daniel responded in the same language, though his words were halting. His expression was filled with adoration for his maker as they sat touching each other, assuring themselves they were indeed reunited.

Chérie slipped her arm around Louis’s waist. “We appear to have lost our ward.”

He nodded. “Yes, my love. That is as it should be.”

Lestat cleared his throat impatiently.

Chérie tipped her mouth up to meet Louis’s kiss. “You’ll excuse me while I finish trouncing him.” She smiled wickedly. “He has no head for strategy.”

Louis laughed silently as danger crept into Lestat’s leer.

“You underestimate me, ma chère,” her maker snarled.

She seemed unconcerned by his menace. “Oh, I don’t think so, mon père, not in chess.”

“Yes,” Armand said. “Finish your game so you may come with Daniel and myself into the city.”

Chérie frowned. “But Armand, will it not be dangerous for you there now? You made national news, you know, worldwide perhaps. Everyone will recognize you.”

“People will see what they want to see,” Armand said cryptically. “And a simple haircut will be sufficient guise if the nuisance is persistent.”

She was aghast. “It seems a shame to cut such hair!”

Armand basked in the compliment. “Thank you, but it will grow back, you understand.” He pointed to the racks of neatly labeled videocassettes. “I have a tape, if you’d like to see.”

Daniel groaned and Armand embraced him quickly.

“Yes, actually, I’d be fascinated,” Chérie said sincerely. “Why are you going into the city?” But she clamped her hands over her mouth, instantly catching herself. “You need to feed, of course.”

And so do you, my love, Louis told her silently.

She started to shake her head, but he continued.

You cannot wait for me. I do not feel it yet.

And there is something I wish to teach you, Armand’s voice intruded.

Yes, Daniel added, almost atop Armand. Hunt with us tonight!

Not you, too, Chérie protested. Is this fair?

Armand and Daniel suddenly turned to Lestat.

“Such language, Lestat,” Armand teased.

“You forget I learned English from flatboatmen,” he snarled, reaching across the board and tipping Chérie’s king. “You concede, ma petite.” He glared at Louis. “And I may take a certain pride in being called Brat Prince, but I know rude when I see it. Or hear it, as the case may be.” He rose and crossed his arms indignantly.

“I am sorry, Lestat,” Louis said, more than a bit sheepishly.

His maker waved him off, approaching Chérie and taking her hand. “Are they pressuring you into anything, my dear?”

She shrugged, slightly embarrassed. “Louis correctly pointed out that I again hunger.”

Her maker pressed her fingers to his lips. “Do not be disconcerted, Chérie. I told you it would be so in the beginning. Louis has a two-hundred-year head start on you. Be patient.” Lestat tucked a wayward strand of her hair behind her ear. “It is only a matter of time.”

His smile was dazzling and she melted in the face of it. He gestured toward Armand and continued. “Listen to our oldest friend as he shows you his trick tonight. He is the master spellbinder and can teach you this as no one else can.” He grinned maliciously at Louis before returning his attention to her. “I do not hold with it, you understand, but perhaps you will find it amusing. But you’ll find your way, there are no rules here.” He smiled, knowing what was to come.

“Hide the kill!” Armand and Louis scolded, nearly in unison. Daniel rolled his eyes and laughed.

“Yes, yes,” Lestat said, fatigued. “I always forget that one.” He plopped down sideways in an enormous black leather chair and winked at Chérie. “What were the other ones? Make no more of our kind? Oops.” He held a hand to his lips.

She smiled warmly. “You’re impertinent, as always, mon père.

Mais oui, ma chère. Now off with you! Enjoy the night.”

“You do not take these things seriously enough, Lestat,” Armand said as he rose, following Daniel and Chérie.

“Armand,” Lestat quietly called after him as their fledglings disappeared down the stairs.

The auburn-haired vampire turned.

Lestat’s expression was deadly serious. “She is under your protection.”

Armand bowed gravely before he too descended.

Louis heard one of the speedboats sputter and roar to life. He wandered onto the terrace and watched as the boat raced toward the distant skyline. Lestat stepped silently beside him and leaned his arm heavily on Louis’s shoulder.

“You let him drink from you, did you?” his maker asked, quietly amused.

“That should not surprise you. You knew I would as soon as I learned of the pain he was yet suffering.”

Lestat grinned. “Yes, but you drank from him as well.”

“I could no more refuse that gift than you could.” He glanced at his maker and then was lost within his own thoughts, staring out over the black and ever-changing ocean.

“He really surprised you, didn’t he?” Lestat’s grin softened when his fledgling cautiously searched his face. He nodded a little. “Armand’s visions can be startling.”

Louis gave his head a tiny shake. “It wasn’t the vision so much. But before, perhaps in the span of a sigh, he seemed to gather images to himself.” Louis’s brow furrowed. “A private sort of protection almost, very personal images of happiness he seemed unable to conceal.” And they flooded his memory again. Armand proudly bewitching his victim for the first time, Marius watching. Lestat emerging from the Paris opera all in red velvet, Marius and hope reborn. His secret kiss for Daniel. Louis shook off the remembered images and then slowly shrugged. “Dozens of images, very personal, very happy, but all in a fleeting moment, as I said.”

Lestat murmured something that seemed to convey an understanding. “Almost violent in the intimacy. I wonder if he’s even aware he does it. The vision pales in comparison.”

“Yes, nearly ordinary. But I’ve never had such awareness of another vampire, Lestat. You have been part of me from the beginning. And with Chérie, it’s felt the same. Part of me. But good Lord, Lestat! Before tonight, he’s only given his blood to Daniel.”

“And Marius,” Lestat quickly reminded him. “Don’t forget that until Chérie, you were as protective of your own blood, Louis. For the very same reasons Armand has guarded his.” He slid his arm back until he could squeeze his fledgling’s shoulder. “Yes, we know him now as few others do, but the gift you gave him was no less precious.”

Louis sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re correct.” He smiled. “And I believe he enjoys the idea that we carry a part of his blood within us.”

“Oh, I’m certain of it,” Lestat said, mischief twinkling in his eyes. “So, what shall we do? Rearrange his videotapes? Or perhaps lock every book in one of the crypts?” He stifled a giggle.

“As amusing as that might be, I’m afraid I must decline. I want to see the state of my suite and I need to prepare a crypt for Chérie.”

Lestat gagged. “Mondo boring, Louis. There’s time for that.”

“You Americans slaughter the English language with deplorable gusto,” came a properly British accent from behind them.

“David!” Lestat beamed, instantly catching up the tweed-encased vampire in his arms.

“Oh, do put me down, Lestat,” David protested, his youthful expression belying the elderly English gentleman at his soul. “Hello, Louis,” he said once he’d regained his footing.

“Good evening, David.” Louis smiled, bowing slightly. He enjoyed David’s polite company and did not wish to forgo the opportunity to annoy his maker.

“Well,” David said, rebuttoning his coat, “I’m afraid I owe you a bit of an apology, really. You see, I was with Gabrielle when you contacted her. We were quite involved in cataloging a site in Peru and, well, Lestat was far too persistent the last time I spent any time with his mum. I do hope you’ll forgive me.”

Louis smiled. “Without question. But you had nothing to fear. Lestat and Chérie have been involved in a project of their own for the past month. A more complete edition of my book is in the works.”

“You are not working on the manuscript?”

Louis shook his head. “They still tally the inaccuracies so there has been no need as yet. Chérie will ask for a vision from time to time, and Daniel still has his tapes. I’m not much of a writer, I’m afraid.” He laughed quietly. “My involvement will principally be to ensure the work does not turn into one of Lestat’s tales.”

Lestat was fuming. “What is this? Am I to be excluded from every conversation tonight?”

David embraced his maker solicitously. “I am sorry, my friend. How is work progressing on Louis’s book? By the by, your mother bade me give you this.” He cupped Lestat’s chin in his hand and tenderly kissed his cheek.

The yellow-haired vampire smoothed David’s dark hair away from his face. “Why must you treat me as a child? I have not seen you in nearly two years and much has happened.”

“Please don’t pout, Lestat,” David said, slipping an arm through his maker’s. “You know I have little tolerance for it and I do want to hear all that has occurred. You look marvelous. But first, where is Armand and how does he appear?”

Lestat led his fledglings indoors as he spoke. “He’s a shade darker than I am, I think. Still raw, but respectable enough to pass for any vacationing tourist.”

David sat on the long divan and Lestat stretched out beside him.

“I saw no scarring,” Louis added, lowering himself onto a straight-backed chair and crossing his legs.

His maker nodded. “None at all. But he was in terrible pain when I arrived at sunset. You remember how it was with me, David, and I had the advantage of ancient blood.”

David nodded thoughtfully. “You helped him, then?”

“We both did,” Louis said. “Even with Lestat’s blood, he was still agonizing.”

“It might be years before he’s completely healed,” Lestat said, sighing. “And the cold may bother him as it still does me, but I believe we’ve stopped the pain.”

“Perhaps I can be of some assistance,” David offered.

Lestat shook his head slowly. “I’m sure Armand would appreciate that, but not just yet, David. I suspect Marius may turn up at sunset and it might not be a good idea to feed Armand solely from myself and my fledglings.”

David pondered momentarily. “What are you thinking, Lestat?”

“I don’t know. Call it a hunch, or just plain, old-fashioned caution, but Armand believed himself evil for centuries, a servant of darkness in one form or another. He recognized goodness tonight and now that’s stewing inside him. How will it ultimately affect him?” He shrugged.

“Very good point,” David agreed.

Lestat smiled. “I’m glad you like it. When you meet Chérie, you may understand further. But just look what an infusion of blood has done for Louis.” His gaze narrowed. “They won’t tell me, of course, and I’d never presume to ask, but I suspect they feed from each other. Regularly.”

Louis’s cheeks flushed.

“In fact,” Lestat continued, “I’m surprised Maharet hasn’t added an addendum to the Great Family, tracing our bloodlines.”

“It’s only distantly related to her Great Family, now isn’t it?” David said. “But after your last extraordinary outing, I began tracking it myself. To see where Christ’s blood flowed.” He turned to Louis, his smile wide. “Now tell me of your Chérie. Where is she?”

Louis beamed. “With Armand and Daniel. She needed to hunt,” he said.

David nodded. “This would be her fourth feeding?” He waited for Louis’s nod. “Yes, she’s progressing faster than I did.”

“Perhaps you could tell her that when you have the chance,” Lestat said. “She was being rather hard on herself for feeling the need so much sooner than Louis.”

“Certainly, I’d be pleased to help.” He returned his attention to Louis. “She must be lovely from the changes I see in you. They can’t all be from Lestat’s blood.”

“If I may beg off the details until a later time, let me tell you for now that I have never known life like this. Daniel has documented it, so perhaps you can come out to California for a few nights. I believe Chérie has her heart set on stopping at the townhouse for a while before we return, but I think she would welcome your visit.”

“Yes, please come,” came a lush alto from the terrace. Chérie stepped through the doors, alone. They all rose as she crossed to kiss Louis, her cheeks flushed and warm to his touch.

“Spectacular,” David uttered.

She smiled. “Thank you.”

Louis smiled. There was no vanity in her reply, simply a sincere appreciation for the compliment given, for the kindness in its expressing. Her beauty was hidden from her and if it existed, she had said, the credit was due her mortal and immortal parents, not to her.

Lestat extended his hand to her and, when she clasped it, he drew her before the tall muscular vampire. “David Talbot, I’m honored to present your new sister. Chérie, this is David.”

“I’m so pleased to meet you, David,” she said. “You’ve done so much for Lestat and for that you have my eternal gratitude.”

Her maker was taken aback, but David was gracious as always.

“The pleasure is most assuredly mine, mademoiselle,” he said, pressing his lips briefly to the fingers of her proffered hand. He glanced up at Louis. “More charming than I could have imagined.”

Louis nodded in acknowledgment. “Why have you returned ahead of the others, Chérie?”

She smiled innocently. “I could not stand to be away from you a moment longer, of course.” Her blue-gray eyes sparkled.

“Flatterer,” Louis teased, laughing silently.

“It’s true, I swear!” She giggled. “But Daniel wanted time alone with Armand. And now I can see why. He must realize the villa will fill up and they’ll never have a moment together.” She became serious. “The dawn is not far off, my love.”

“Turning in early, are you?” Lestat asked impishly, winking at Louis.

“Indeed. I have yet to see the condition of my suite.” Louis embraced David warmly. “We shall talk,” he promised.

“I look forward to it,” David said, bowing to accept Chérie’s kiss. “Or perhaps you would like to tell the story for once. I suspect Louis has monopolized the telling.” He squeezed her hand gently before releasing it.

She smiled, hearing the speedboat approach. “Or perhaps Daniel, who had to write it all down. But for now, we must take our leave. Please extend our good-nights to Armand and Daniel.”

“I will,” David said.

Lestat walked with them to the end of the room. Louis held him tightly for a moment, stealing a brief kiss before stepping aside for Chérie. Lestat lifted her from the ground and cradled her in his arms.

“Sleep well, Chérie. Watch over Louis,” he said, his eyes closing for her embrace.

It had become their ritual. Louis found the display touching. Their maker was protective of her as he had been of no other. Not even Claudia. And Chérie tolerated it better, without question, truly enjoying his affections.

Lestat gently set her upon her feet and she ran her hand down his cheek. “Bonne nuit, mon père.”

Bonne nuit, Chérie. Louis.” Their maker turned to rejoin David.

Arm in arm, they walked to the end of the hall and mounted the stairs to the third floor. A long hallway stretched before them, glass windows along the seaward side, doors on the shoreward. Louis paused before one of the doors and entered a series of numbers on the keypad. When the indicator changed colors, he pushed open the door and held it for Chérie. She turned abruptly at the sound of the door closing, locks and concealed panels falling into place.

Louis smiled. “The door is secure against the sun. Daniel worked a long time with the engineers to perfect it. And the terrace has a similar mechanism.”

She turned again as Louis stood close behind her and wrapped his arms around her. Her gaze moved about the room in wonder.

“It’s beautiful, Louis. I never would have guessed, although reading of the Matisse in the townhouse should have been clue enough.”

Louis was pleased she liked the room. He and Daniel had worked through plan after plan before succeeding with the effect.

The entire suite seemed bathed in sunlight. The plastered walls were cut into at ingenious angles and painted slightly darker or lighter hues to simulate the fresh low rays of sunrise. There was a decided feel to the room of a secluded villa on the Côte d’Azur. Flowering vines of myriad vibrant hues grew from recessed and deep planters, fed and lighted through electronic sensors, trailing their fragrant tendrils along carefully chosen paths. The ceiling had an almost unseen tint of blue in the white.

He walked ahead of her and pressed the button that lowered the terrace guard into place.

She watched the Miami skyline in puzzlement. “Nothing is happening.” Then she gasped in delight. “The panel is identical to the skyline!”

“Yes,” Louis said. His eyes shifted to the control panel when he heard its alerting beep. “The entire room is impervious to the sun. We may sleep here, or if you prefer, we can retire to my crypt.”

“Here,” she whispered reverently. “I’ve never seen a more perfect room. It’s as if we’ve stepped into Monet’s garden.” Her gaze narrowed. “Lestat doesn’t come here, does he?”

Louis sat on the edge of the enormous bed, its bleached posts draped with billowy netting. The bed appeared to grow directly out of the cool earthen tiles that formed a step around its perimeter. “He came in here once, but he said it was too realistic to tolerate.” He pulled off his boots and socks as she knelt before him on the tiles, her feet already bare. “I have never missed the sun, Chérie. It’s not the sun I tried to capture in this room.”

“It’s the morning air,” she said, smiling. “Fresh and clean.”

“Precisely.” Louis sighed deeply. “You understand so well. You make the room perfect, my love.”

She reached up and touched the netting draped over his head.

“And exactly what sort of blood drinkers is this supposed to keep out?”

Louis laughed, delighted by the image, as she slowly pulled off his thick sweater, unbuttoning and removing the heavy broadcloth shirt beneath. Slowly, she ran her hands across his chest, loving every inch of his preternatural flesh. He pulled her closer, sliding his long fingers up under her sweater, relishing the smoothness of her skin, until he drew the sweater over her head. He dropped it to the floor as she unbuttoned his jeans. He stood slowly as she held the thick indigo fabric, pulling off each leg in turn. He again sat and began unfastening her jeans, holding her as they fell to her ankles and she stepped from them.

Louis lifted her in his arms and lay her on the warm flannel sheets. He reached for the control panel and pressed a series of buttons. As the lights dimmed, a breeze came up, warm yet refreshing, and he saw Chérie’s lips part in delight. He stretched out beside her, resting on one elbow, his chin propped on his hand. Lightly, he let his fingertips wander across her opalescent skin, tracing the delicate paths where he saw her blood flow. His dark green eyes lazily followed her contours until they were swimming in the brilliant blue-gray depths of her eyes.

“Marry me,” he whispered. “Be my bride.”

Louis watched, enthralled, as blood flooded the pools that were her eyes. He watched her lungs struggle for breath, her lips move soundlessly. He watched it all, memorizing everything, and waited.

With seemingly great effort, she pressed her lips together and swallowed dryly.

“My sweet Louis,” she said quietly, her fingers touching his lips, tracing his dark brow, and gently pushing his hair away from his face. “So many gifts you have given me and when I think there can be none greater, you give me this. Forever is a long time for us. Forgive me for asking but, for you, I must.” She took a deep breath. “Are you sure, Louis?”

He smiled slowly, the low light glistening in his eyes. “Oh, yes, my love. I was so very glad of your early return that we might have this one perfect moment. So that I might tell you that there was no life in me until you entered my heart. You have watered my soul and coaxed the blossoms from their long hibernation. Whether you marry me or not, I am yours forever, my love. But I will always want you for my bride.”

Her tears fell. “Then we shall marry, my love. Such pure love I found when you first took my hand in the moonlight. We were the same, you and I, two creatures made whole. I knew then that I would spend every night thereafter at your side. Every tomorrow is ours.”

She wept as he gathered her into his arms, their naked skin pressed together, legs intertwined. Two became one. He buried his face in her hair and breathed deeply.

Louis lifted her chin and gently kissed away the tears, her blood in his mouth, becoming his blood. Hungrily, he pressed his lips to hers, holding their silky texture for a moment before tasting again. And again. And again. His lips drew taut, pulled seemingly against his will into an ever-widening smile. He felt as if he would never stop smiling again. His own tears gathered as the first laugh escaped him. Such joy as he’d never known!

She smiled up at him, mischief mixing with her happiness, so easy to see in her eyes. “You realize, of course, that Lestat will insist on making the arrangements. Lestat will....” Her voice trailed off, her eyes growing wide in recognition. “Lestat knew!”

“Yes, my love. Such a thing has never been done before and who better to consult than he who breaks every rule?” His eyes danced. “And yes, he wants to make all the arrangements. But we can fight him on that tonight. Sleep is upon us, my love.”

She lay nestled against his chest, listening to his heart beating its terrible rhythm and he felt hers pounding an identical song beside him. Their eyes closed and they slept.

Night Three

The Night Island

He was smiling when he awoke. His dreams in this room had always been wonderful, but it was her kisses that made him smile. She always awakened before him and she was tormenting him this evening. He ached to hold her long before his arms could move.

Louis slowly forced his eyes open, in time to see her move into his vision.

“Hi,” she said sprightly, and promptly licked his nose.

He crinkled it, briefly baring his fangs, and with enormous effort raised a hand to wipe it dry. He let the arm fall across his chest, enduring her continued kisses for several minutes.

Then he grabbed her, fully animated and using all his preternatural speed, entrapping her in his arms. She all but purred.

“Ask me again,” she whispered, as he rolled atop her.

“Will you marry me?”

“Yes!” she said joyously, flipping him on his back and resting an elbow gently in the center of his chest. She leaned her chin on her hand. “I just wanted to be sure I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing.”

He stood suddenly, catching her up in his arms. “My whole life has become a dream. A dream come true,” he whispered and nuzzled her hair away from her neck suggestively.

“Yes,” she whispered. “Oh yes, do it.”

And he did, allowing his sharp fangs to slowly press against her flesh, feeling her skin suddenly give way and the blood gush over his tongue. Her warmth spread through him. He shifted, holding her closer and he felt her lips move on his throat, raising every hair on his body, as his own flesh tore and his vital blood pumped into her hungry mouth.

The delicious torment of his blood draining matched the ecstasy of her blood filling him, his veins awash with sensation.

Their hearts pounded as one, thundering across his senses. And then the vision came. Yet it was as if he had opened his eyes, though they remained closed. They circled the bed to lie together in this very room, blossoms drifting about them. Then leaves, and they were beneath the twisted walnut tree, circling the hedge to come together. And the hedge was bamboo reaching to the stars and they came together and turned in each other’s arms, before bougainvillea, and hibiscus, and Queen’s Wreath. Water from the fountain in the enclosed courtyard rained down on them.

Louis’s lips kissed the wound, feeling it close, his tongue embracing her smooth skin, and he opened his eyes to the forest of her deep brown hair. She had released him and he kissed her jaw, and her chin, and finally her lips, the taste of his blood lingering there, mixing with hers. So sweet. He was lost in her eyes, her tropical eyes.

He pulled back and furrowed his brow. “Have I told you tonight that I love you?”

She looked up at him wide-eyed and innocent as he set her down. “Why no, you haven’t.”

Louis smiled as his breath seemed to leave him. “I love you, Chérie.”

“And I love you right back. So there.”

They laughed, Louis disappearing into a large closet.

“I can’t believe we forgot to bring you a change of clothes,” he called. “You’re welcome to anything I have here, but I’m afraid it’s all far too large for you.”

“No imagination,” she muttered. “Just choose a tee-shirt and a button-down shirt that are not horrid together and we’ll see what I can do with them.” She had her jeans pulled on when he tossed out the two shirts. The tee-shirt was teal and the other was white, heavy cotton, and long-sleeved.

“Perfect,” she called.

Louis emerged in light-weight black wool trowsers and a rich burgundy sweater, his black hair pulled back at the nape of his neck. He smiled when he saw Chérie. She had tucked the tee-shirt into her jeans and wore the cotton shirt open atop it, the collar up, the tails tied around her waist, and the sleeves rolled up above her elbows.

She shrugged. “Standard issue in college. This is what everyone wore. Do you think Armand would be upset if I walked around barefoot?”

Louis smiled, but furrowed his brow. “Mortified.”

She sighed and disappeared into the closet. “Spare socks?” she called.

“Drawer. Shoulder high to you. All the way to the left.”

“Thank you,” she said, carrying a white pair as she closed the closet door.

Louis was already pulling on a pair of black suede boots when she sat beside him and began pulling on the socks. She paused to watch him.

“How many pairs of boots do you own, Louis?”

He laughed. “I don’t believe I’ve ever counted them.” He thought about it a moment. “Somewhere near forty pairs, I’d guess. Perhaps more. Why?”

“Curious,” she said, pulling on her own boots. “And I keep trying to figure out how to break this to my folks. Maybe if I tell them you’re a fabulous catch...they might be able to relate to that.” She nodded to herself.

Louis was aghast. “Your parents are still alive?”

“Last time I checked.”

“When was that?”

“Last month. You and Daniel were off doing something. And God only knows where Lestat was.” She stood and stamped her feet, seating the boots around the too-large socks. She looked up in surprise. “Good God! I can’t believe I never told you about them. I’ve been meaning to, of course.”

“You measure time differently now. You’ll become accustomed to it eventually. When did you see them last?”

“Four, no, five years ago. They live in Maine now, moved there when I went away to college. Have you ever been to Maine?”

Louis shook his head as he rose.

“How about Scotland?”

He smiled, puzzled by the question. “No, though I probably should. Most of my sweaters are made there.”

“Well, think of the coldest place you’ve ever been and Maine is colder. Not exactly a haven for vampire kind. It’s great, I suppose, if you’re looking to avoid them.”

She looked up at Louis. “I’d like to tell them I’m getting married, but they would want to come and bring the entire family.” She shook her head. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“I’m afraid I must agree. You could always tell them afterward.”

“That’s probably wise.” She smiled and slipped an arm around his waist. “Thank you, Louis.”


“For loving me.”

He kissed her and opened the door, letting her pass and then catching her hand as they walked toward the stairs.

When they stepped into the living room, the gathered vampires rose and broke into polite applause.

Louis blushed. Far more of their number had arrived.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Chérie muttered.

“Who is this Pete?” Armand asked David.

“Saint Peter, most believe. It’s just an American expression, Armand.”

Daniel patted them both on the shoulder and grinned. “You know you two will never live this down.”

Louis groaned.

Daniel leaned over to him conspiratorially. “Actually, you should be thankful you missed this. They’ve been talking about you-know-what for an hour.”

Chérie groaned and clung to Louis.

This did not escape Daniel’s attention. He smiled at her, then back to Louis. His smile widened into a grin.

“Come, my love,” Louis said, ignoring Daniel. “I may as well begin introducing you to the new arrivals.”

“No need to frighten the dear,” said a woman blocking their path, her long blonde hair in a thick braid down her back. She held Louis lightly by the shoulders and they kissed decorously on both cheeks. “You look well, Louis. Love agrees with you.”

Merci, madame. It’s good to see you again, Gabrielle.” He smiled. “This is Chérie.”

Enchantée, Marquise,” Chérie said.

Très bien, but I understand you are just learning French, so I will not tax you. And please call me Gabrielle.” Her smile was warm.

“Thank you. Gabrielle.” She beamed.

“Yes, and thank you for answering my call,” Louis said. “From the way David spoke last night, I did not think you would come.”

She scowled and smoothed her khaki jacket. “I did not plan to do so, not for Armand’s little deception. But then I heard the other news and I knew I must come for you.”

“That is never necessary, Gabrielle,” Louis assured her.

Her deep cobalt eyes sparked. “You know I do nothing on pretense, mon cher.” Her attention shifted to Chérie. “And how is my son treating you? He behaves himself, I hope.”

Chérie’s eyes lighted. “I fear no one will believe me, but Lestat has been nothing but a gentleman. Exceedingly patient and kind, quick to add detail when I need. And I treasure the affection he gives so freely.”

Gabrielle seemed taken aback. “Yes, I can see how that would surprise the others. Now, if you will excuse me, I believe I should find our dear Lestat.” She turned and disappeared as quickly as she had arrived.

“I’ve upset her, haven’t I?” Chérie asked, saddened.

Louis shook his head. “I don’t believe so. She may have been startled to finally hear first-hand the news of her son’s change. Gabrielle has fretted about Lestat since his ordeal with that demon.” He smiled. “She would never admit to having such instincts, but she is his mother, still. Come, Chérie. There are others.”

He led her to the chess table. An enormous vampire sat studying the pieces. He glanced up at their approach and broke into an angelic smile.

“Louis!” He rose and embraced him.

“Khayman, I’m pleased to present Chérie.”

Gently he took her proffered hand in his and squeezed it with calculated care. “I’m happy to meet you. She’s beautiful, Louis.”

“And she defeats Lestat regularly at chess. Perhaps you can play later.”

Chérie smiled. “Yes, I’d like that.” She seemed fascinated as Khayman searched her eyes.

His gaze shifted to the chessboard and back. “You were five moves from mate when you conceded.” He laughed, a joyous sound, guileless. “And Lestat didn’t know.”

“Sometimes a fast opening is worth the risk,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

Khayman nodded. “Surprise can force fatal mistakes,” he said, grinning as he impulsively enveloped Chérie in his arms. “Or it can unveil infinite treasures.”

Louis was distressed to see his love crushed in the unexpected and powerful embrace. But Chérie smiled, her eyes closing contentedly, accepting the ancient vampire’s affection. She could not stop her brow from furrowing under the overwhelming pressure, however.

“Just a little softer,” she whispered, her voice gentle, devoid of any inflection, as if instructing a pupil whose talents far exceeded her own. Her smile spread over her entire face. “Yes, that’s nice.” She sighed. “Thank you, Khayman. I’m glad to know you, as well.”

Khayman beamed as he released her, touching Chérie’s hair as she smiled up at him. “Perfect for Louis, perfect for Lestat. They are happy to be near you, too.”

Louis was taking a deep breath in relief when a red-haired vampire suddenly stepped up, flesh paler than their own.

“Hello, Khayman!” she said, smiling and taking Chérie’s arm. “You gentlemen will excuse me, but I’m going to steal her out of this madhouse before you inflict any more damage.”

Chérie looked up pleadingly at Louis but she was already being drawn out the door and onto the terrace. Louis excused himself from Khayman and followed more slowly, catching up with them at the farthest corner, away from the doors.

“But call me Jesse,” the red-haired vampire was saying as Louis came to lean against the rail. “And you!” She tapped Louis gently on the shoulder. “You should be ashamed of yourself for subjecting her to that insanity!”

“Hopefully Chérie will find it in her heart to forgive me,” he teased. “My Lord! Is everyone coming?”

Jesse shrugged. “I know Maharet and Eric are on their way. Marius and Santino are in there somewhere.” She threw up one hand. “No one has heard from Pandora in years, so who knows about her. I just keep expecting to see Mael come through the door.” Her lips set and she glanced out at the Miami skyline.

Chérie gently laid a hand on her arm. “It must have been terrible for you.”

Jesse nodded, twisting the silver bracelet on her arm. “Mael loved me. It’s been hard to picture him gone.” She laughed wryly. “It makes you wonder about your own immortality, you know?”

Chérie raised her eyebrows thoughtfully and nodded.

“Have you heard of any other new fledglings?” Louis asked.

Jesse smiled and shook her head. “No, only Lestat breaks that rule. But he certainly has good taste. David was a surprise, of course. There were several who were outraged with the Brat Prince over his pursuit of David. But with this one,” she said, regarding Chérie carefully. “This one nobody is questioning.” She looked up at Louis. “It’s eerie, you know? Everyone heard about the change in you, Louis. Which is wonderful, by the way.” Jesse patted his shoulder affectionately. “But everyone seemed to expect that to happen at some point. Or at least wished it would. No, it’s the change in Lestat that’s so remarkable. Two complete turnarounds. And now Daniel.”

“What about Daniel?” Chérie asked, concern filling her face.

The red-haired vampire laughed. “Oh, nothing bad! He was always so...out there, you know? But listen to me! I’m droning on and on.” She took Chérie’s hands gently in hers. “Please forgive me. I do really badly at these large gatherings. Hopefully everyone will just spread out soon.”

Chérie laughed with her. “I know what you mean. For years, I lived alone and suddenly, wham! I have three roommates. And now all this. Somehow I get the feeling this is going to be a very long night.”

Jesse nodded, but looked up appraisingly at Louis. “Not quite your normal roomies, though. Expected or not, Louis is gorgeous like this. Oops! See? I’ve made him blush.” She grinned.

“You are impossible, Jesse,” David said, coming up behind her with another vampire in tow, blond hair almost white and wearing a dark suit with a red velvet vest.

“As are you, David,” Jesse said, pushing a wave of hair out of his eyes. “You were never so unkempt,” she teased. “So, you get to make the next introduction?”

He nodded to her. “Yes, I have the privilege to introduce our dear Chérie. Oh, that’s nearly redundant, isn’t it? Nevertheless,” he turned to the white-haired vampire, “Marius, this is Chérie.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Chérie,” Marius said, cradling her hand in his and kissing her cheek.

“No,” she said, smiling. “The pleasure is most certainly mine. To finally meet the one Lestat holds in such high regard, I am truly honored.”

Marius beamed. “Louis, I see your teaching in her.”

Louis shook his head. “I’m afraid I only cautioned her on the protocol for meeting Armand. The rest of this is a complete surprise. The accomplishment is hers alone.”

“Indeed! Quite remarkable, my dear.”

“Thank you,” Chérie said. “Have you seen Lestat? I’m afraid I missed him in the crowd.”

Marius chuckled. “Yes, he was just sitting down to a game of chess with Khayman. I think he is the only one foolhardy enough to approach him just now. Khayman is a bit on edge.”

“Then I’d better go see how he’s doing,” Jesse said, disappearing back into the villa.

Marius watched her go. “Interesting bond between those two. He kills her and now she watches over him. Of course, he is her ancestral father.” He lowered his tone somewhat. “And Gabrielle sits watching her son as if he will break. I suspect you’ve had a great influence upon him, my dear.”

“You’re kind to say so, Marius, but I’m inclined to believe that no one influences Lestat but Lestat.”

“You may be quite correct.” He startled suddenly. “You haven’t met Santino yet, have you? If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go fetch him.” And Marius too disappeared into the villa.

Chérie sighed.

Louis slipped an arm around her shoulders protectively and kissed the top of her head.

David would have led them to a stand of chairs but she shook her head.

“No, I’m afraid if I sit down, they’ll swarm all over me.”

Louis smiled. “Don’t forget you can always go straight up.”

“A lot of help you are,” she snarled playfully.

“You have spent far too much time with Lestat, my dear. That was a flawless impersonation,” David said. His smile changed to concern. “Now, how are you doing, really?”

“Quite frankly, David, I’m flustered at every turn. They seem to be converging on us and, apart from Lestat’s little coven, I was not prepared for anyone but Armand and Marius.”

David took her hand. “I understand completely. Been there myself, though I never endured such a sustained onslaught. You are doing admirably well, but why don’t you two drop into the study? I’ll come get you when Maharet arrives. No one is going in there. Armand has footage of his interviews playing on every monitor.” He glanced at Louis. “Do you remember where it is?”

“Yes, but what of Santino?”

Chérie nodded. “Yes, I wouldn’t want to offend him by promptly disappearing.”

“Do not concern yourself, Chérie,” said a tall, heavily built vampire as he stepped around David. His fathomless eyes were nearly as jet black as his shimmering hair and his voice held a faint Mediterranean accent. “I am Santino, and I too understand. We shall speak later.” He bowed and, without awaiting a response, turned back toward the villa.

“Wow,” Chérie murmured. “Charisma has a name.”

Louis laughed quietly until David nudged him gently.

“Now, quickly. Get her out of here.” David moved to block anyone else who might emerge onto the terrace.

Almost instantly, Louis and Chérie had alighted on an adjoining terrace and had ducked inside. Recorded footage of reporters jostling Armand filled the dozen monitors in the room.

“At least someone turned off the sound,” Chérie said, collapsing onto a silver brocade divan. “Okay, so I am glad I wore my boots.”

Louis smiled and lowered himself beside her. He bent to kiss her tenderly.

“I’m proud of you, Chérie. The first time this coven met was to confront Akasha. This is an infinitely more difficult gathering. A coven of killers making civilized conversation.” He shook his head at the irony. “On our own private Alcatraz.”

She laughed at his jest and leaned against him. “It is what we are, my love. You cannot wish it otherwise. And at least they do not seem upset over my presence. How do you think Armand is faring?” She gestured to the monitors. “After all, he called this little gathering, didn’t he?”

Louis watched the video momentarily. “I have felt no tension, except from Jesse. But I doubt she seriously holds Armand responsible for Mael’s death.” He drew Chérie’s hand to his lips, savoring her icy flesh. “I wish I’d known him better.”

Chérie nodded and then turned to face Louis, her expression brightening. “So who do you think spread the news of your intentions? Daniel or Lestat?” She reached up and untied his hair.

He shook it free, enjoying the lustful way she watched it cascade over his shoulders.

“Lestat. He could not resist flaunting another rule broken, though at most, it was an unspoken rule. It was long presumed, by him at least, that our kind could not endure the company of our kind for any length of time.” He gave his shoulders a slow shrug. “I have never believed this because Lestat and I had tolerated each other for seventy years before Claudia tried to kill him.”

Chérie grinned. “Lestat believes you do not understand this.”

Louis laughed without uttering a sound. “Who can tell him he is mistaken? He also believes that I wanted his rigid instruction as I was born to this life, when what I wanted truly was to share all the delights of this world with him.” He kissed her silky lips. “For this, I will be eternally grateful I found you. Lestat and Armand watched me, and I can think of no more boring object of study.” He crooked a finger under her chin. “But you watch what I see and I delight in your delight. Merci, ma chère mariée.

De rien, Louis.” She smiled. “C’est mon plaisir.”

Louis held her close. “No, Chérie. It is quite something and the pleasure is unendingly mine.” He stroked her soft hair, trailing his hand down her arm, and meshing his fingers with hers.

They jumped as the door flew open and Daniel stuck his head in.

“There you are!” he said, grinning as he stepped inside and closed the door. He plopped into a chair opposite them. “David asked me to find you. Maharet and Eric have arrived, and she wants to speak with you.” His eyes shifted between them excitedly.

Chérie glanced up at Louis, a mild panic in her eyes. He smiled for her.

“Don’t worry, my love. Remember your ease with Jesse.”

She smiled bravely. “I will. Is she waiting, Daniel?”

He nodded. “Just outside the door. Should I let her in?”

Louis rose, smiling, and drew Chérie to her feet. There were no means by which Daniel could keep Maharet out if she chose to enter.

“Yes, please let her come,” he said. They turned so they were facing the door together as Daniel opened it.

Maharet took a step into the room, tall, her curly red hair unbound. Her skin had a radiance unmatched by any other vampire in the villa and it was slightly tanned, intentionally burnt by the sun to achieve that very hue. She wore her long, black wool tunic belted below the bodice. An amazing garment, it appeared at once both casual and formal, cool and yet warm.

She paused to embrace Daniel, thanking him for his assistance. The young vampire smiled warmly as he backed out of the door, closing it.

She smiled and drew near to take Louis’s hands in hers. He felt the incalculable strength in her fingers, so like stone, her ravenous hunger for life that exceeded even his own, and something else.... He studied her in puzzlement, his connection to this Child of the Millennia suddenly palpable. And without vision, recognition grew within him, along with the welling in his heart, as she drew him into her powerful arms. The blood tears tumbled down his cheeks inexplicably and he held tight as the world stopped turning.

“Maharet,” he whispered.

“Louis. My brother,” she said. “I am so glad to see this finally awakened in you. You, who are like me, walking through time, continually aware. Never clawing in the earth. Never giving in to madness. Never falling into perpetual sleep.”

“Always human,” he said, and felt her joy. It was his joy.

“Yes,” she said. “Though you know that is not wholly accurate. We are more than human, but it is a layer atop our humanity. And you see it all!”

Her regard for him was reverent. Through how many thousands of years had she walked, alone with this knowledge? He could not fathom it.

“Do not try,” she said, reading his thoughts as easily as she drew him away. Her eyes, a blue deeper than Gabrielle’s, searched his. He felt her love for him pouring out of those stolen eyes. And he smiled.

Without breaking their gaze, he reached out for Chérie and felt her clasp his hand, felt her trembling. But it was not fear. She too had felt the connection made, how close he was to bursting. With everything he was, he turned to her.

Tears stained Chérie’s cheeks, her gaze locked with Maharet.

“My sister,” the ancient one said with great happiness, taking his bride in her arms. “A fledgling born with this knowledge! Loving all living things, always seeing the world with fascination.”

“Never to wonder why,” Louis said, sinking onto the divan, his long legs no longer able to hold him aloft.

Maharet gently lowered Chérie beside him and he held her as she wept. Loving her, drying her eyes tenderly when her sobbing abated.

“Yes, Louis,” Maharet said, sitting in the chair Daniel had so recently occupied. “Chérie will never need to wonder as we did. For three thousand years I watched my Great Family grow without understanding completely why I watched, as you passed through your world seeing without knowing. Fighting the bitterness remains difficult.” She touched his hand. “When you cried with Lestat, you finally knew. In that dreary hotel room, it became painfully clear what was important.”

Louis sat forward, arms across his knees. “Lestat is changing, as well.”

“Only our understanding is changed. You are the same, are you not?” The red-haired ancient smiled. “And it will take longer for Lestat, I believe. But I cannot be certain. There may be a fierce outpouring when awareness comes to him, however. And the world may change. That is always a possibility with Lestat.”

He pressed a thumb to his lips, pondering her words and nodding a little, but turned when Chérie finally spoke.

“I feel so small,” she whispered. “So small.”

Louis settled back on the divan and slid his arm around her shoulders, kissing the crown of her long brown hair.

“That’s as it should be,” Maharet said quietly. “It’s how I feel, though I know the others believe me to be enormous. In power, in wisdom, in love. But we know it is not so, don’t we, Chérie?” She smiled. “Do not be afraid because the others already see you this way. Lestat has always seen Louis this way, though until recently he had made light of it.”

“I endured because he loved me so,” Louis said.

Maharet laughed gently. “You would have endured, regardless. But his love made it easier.” She sighed. “And more difficult.”

Chérie nodded as she smiled at the red-haired vampire. “Not only Lestat, but Armand and Marius saw this in Louis, as well.”

“Many of the others,” Maharet agreed. “And we should rejoin them now. Lestat grows anxious. I only needed to see for myself what I have felt from you both.” She rose.

Louis and Chérie stood, exchanging glances.

Maharet smiled. “Yes, they will look to me for a blessing of this wedding and they shall have it, though you knew you never needed such a thing. I am here for that reason as well. And to see Armand. I would have come anyway, but Lestat called me.”

“Lestat?” Louis repeated, amazed.

“Yes, he wanted to ask for my help.” The blue eyes twinkled. “Though that must have cost him dearly.”

“Dear Lord! With what could he ever need assistance?” Chérie asked.

“Your faith in his abilities is encouraging.” Maharet smiled warmly before continuing. “His preparations for your wedding are already far advanced, Chérie, though Louis only proposed last night. Lestat doesn’t believe he could sway a priest to administer the sacrament, with all due preparations and rituals, even though his powers are immense. He believes in God Manifest and his Savage Garden, but he cannot believe in the Church and he’s certain a true priest will see through whatever veil he throws up.”

Louis smiled. “And will you help him?”

“Oh yes!” she said, laughing mischievously. “I am vain enough to relish the opportunity.”

He laughed quietly and then his smile became puzzled. “Forgive me for asking, but how is it you know I proposed last night?”

Maharet’s laughter brightened. “You really have no idea how strong your voice is, do you?” She shook her head in wonderment as the blush rose in his cheeks. “You ask so I will tell you, though knowing will only cause you more embarrassment.” She took his hand gently. “Last night, you sent your happiness out to us all. That’s why so many have come, to see this in your eyes.”

Louis groaned and Chérie smiled up at him, squeezing him tightly. “It’s all right, Louis,” she said, glancing at Maharet. “I don’t think we were ever able to keep this secret.”

The red-haired vampire smiled. “No, I’m afraid not. But you two have been happily sequestered in California for a year now and this is our first chance to see you.”

“I suppose I owe Lestat another apology,” Louis said. “For thinking he had told everyone.”

“Oh, he has been far from quiet himself.” Maharet laughed. “By the way, do you want to know where he plans for you to be married?”

Chérie smiled up at Louis. “New Orleans,” they said in unison.

“You’re not guessing!” Maharet said, delighted. “Tell me how you knew.”

Louis shrugged. “A vision in blood when we rose. I’ve never taken Chérie to the townhouse in the Rue Royale, yet in the vision we came together in a sequence of places. The courtyard of the townhouse was the last of these places.”

Maharet seemed impressed. “New Orleans, yes. But his plans are for something a little grander than the townhouse.” She smiled and opened the door. “Now we really must rejoin the others.”

They followed her down the hallway and as they stepped into the living room, the congregated vampires rose, their murmurs quieting. Louis sought out his maker, finding Lestat again sitting sideways in the black leather chair. Smiling to the vampires they passed, he and Chérie moved to stand behind Lestat’s chair. His maker’s hand slowly reached up and he clasped it, fondly, and felt Lestat’s relief. Louis slid his free arm around Chérie’s waist.

Maharet touched hands here and there until she came to Armand, embracing him tenderly.

“I’m so glad you’re alive and among us again,” she told him quietly. “As is, I suspect, everyone here. But if you’ll forgive this intrusion upon our reunion, Lestat has an introduction to make.”

Armand bowed his head slightly, to her and then to Lestat.

Lestat sighed wearily and extracted his hand from Louis’s grip. He waved lazily about the room and to his new fledgling. “Everyone, Chérie. Chérie, everyone.”

Groans erupted from the group and grew more insistent until Lestat held up his hands for silence.

“Okay, okay. You want the full story, I suppose?”

Unanimous consent arose.

“Well,” Lestat said, suddenly swinging his legs off the chair and springing to his feet. “Then you’ll have to buy the book.” He grinned impishly as he circled the room. “A new edition of Louis’s book is in the works and it will include all the sordid details. Daniel’s writing it and I’m one of its editors, so you can be sure of that. But I can give you the short version, if you’d like,” he said, working the crowd like a snakeoil salesman.

Lestat was in his element, eliciting the group’s full consent before continuing. Louis laughed in delight and relinquished Chérie when Lestat gallantly offered her his hand and guided her into his chair.

“As most of you, no, all of you know,” Lestat continued, “Louis sent out a call for me last year. And I want to thank each and every one of you for relaying that message to me. Loudly, repeatedly,” he glared at Daniel, “and without regard for time zones.” Lestat turned a malicious smile on Louis. “I had the worst rest of my life that day, I hope you realize. Nasty, awful dreams!” He shuddered dramatically before winking at Chérie.

“So I was up with the sun’s demise and followed that trail of death to a dismal little corner of California, prying my way into a meager little room where Louis was still sawing logs.”

Chérie laughed at her maker’s pantomime until Lestat suddenly dropped down before her.

“Laugh now, because I’ll get to you in a moment.” And he was up again, across the room to a chorus of teasing remarks.

“Let’s skip all the sentimental mumbo-jumbo and teary-eyed revelations, shall we?” Lestat ignored their boos and hisses and ran a finger across his lips. “The crux of the matter was that poor, dear Louis had fallen madly, passionately, hopelessly in love with this mortal woman,” he said disgustedly.

Louis blushed.

Chérie was startled when Lestat slid up to her.

“That’s you, sweetheart,” he teased, kissing her chastely before striding away again.

“Now Louis had been on the verge of making her into a bloodsucking killer all on his own, when this mortal gives him the brilliant,” he drew out the word as he repeated it, “brilliant idea to get me to do it.”

Lestat stopped dead in his tracks and, whipping his head around to face them, his mouth hanging open in shock, he pounded a fist to his chest.

“Me! They wanted me to work the Dark Trick on her.” He paused to make sure all eyes were on him before continuing, each word loud and measured. “And break one of our most valued and sacred rules!” He laughed once, sharply, and scowled indignantly at Louis and Chérie.

Suddenly, he shrugged and tucked his arm behind his back.

“Okay, so they twisted my arm.” He grinned his impish best and quickly covered his head as everyone hurled jeers at him.

Slowly, he stood and brushed off his coat, tugging it into place. “Well, I did it, and a finer vampire you’ll never find, thank you very much. I done good. And I know this because I’ve been living with them for a year now and you can believe me when I tell you that they are so much in love, and so nauseatingly sweet,” Lestat grinned at Louis and Chérie before hurtling on, “that they make you wish you could eat just so you could vomit! That sweet!”

Applause erupted along with a few whistles from the younger vampires.

Lestat walked across the room to kneel before Chérie. He held up a hand, begging for silence.

“But they are in love,” he said quietly, taking her hand and pressing her fingers to his lips. “And Chérie has tamed not one but three wild beasts, as you have all seen with your own eyes. And I believe,” he glanced up to see Louis’s confirming nod, “our dear Louis has an announcement to make.” Lestat rose, quickly stepping away.

The room became deathly still as Louis came around the chair and drew Chérie to her feet. His eyes were on hers as he spoke.

“Last night, I asked Chérie to marry me.” He smiled broadly, his eyes alight. “And she accepted.”

The sudden applause startled him. Deafening. Then Daniel stepped forward, grinning and calling for quiet.

“Where’s the ring?” he demanded, and a chorus of demands for a ring erupted.

Louis looked properly ashen and Chérie was shaking her head, denying the need for such trivialities.

Lestat stepped forward and called for silence. He looked embarrassed for his fledglings. “There must be a ring, Louis.”

“There must?”

“Yes, there must.”

Louis turned slowly, his arms out. “Then check your pockets, because there’s nothing in mine.”

Lestat patted himself down and winced suddenly. He stared at Louis blankly, shrugged, and dug something out of his pocket. A small, gray jeweler’s box. He turned it over in his hands.

“Well, what do you know about that!” He looked up at Louis and flicked the box across the room.

Louis snatched it from the air. He pushed open the lid and smiled. Freeing the ring, he handed the empty box to Lestat, who was standing at his shoulder now. Louis lifted Chérie’s left hand and had the ring poised when he suddenly halted, his expression becoming solemn.

“Marry me,” Louis said, lost in her eyes.

“Oh, yes,” she whispered.

He quickly slid the ring onto her finger and she wrapped her arms around his neck, lost in his kiss.

Lestat let out a whoop and mayhem broke out.

Their lips parted, Chérie laughing. “You’re such a romantic, Louis. I can’t believe you did that!”

“Imagine how amazed I am,” he said, flush and smiling.

Lestat leaned an arm heavily on Louis’s shoulder. “You loved it and you know it. A kiss for the father of the bride, Chérie?”

She wrapped her arms around him, kissing him deeply. Lestat came up licking his lips.

“Louis,” he said, identifying the taste.

Chérie was beaming. “You were wonderful, Lestat.”

He wiped his mouth. “Yes, I know...oh, you mean that?” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Good God! You’ve never seen me perform, have you? Well, when we get to New Orleans, we’ll have to rectify that. Have a jam session in the house on Prytania Street.” He grinned mischievously. “Lure in some garage band. See if we can wake the dead.” He looked around furtively and pushed Louis down in the big chair. “For now, my dear, you two should sit, show the ring, and smile.” Lestat gently lifted Chérie onto Louis’s lap. “Let them come to you, and I’ll talk to you later. We have many plans to go over.” With a grin, he was gone.

Louis wrapped his arms around Chérie and held her quietly for a moment, the other vampires in the room seemingly forgetting them as they discussed Lestat’s little performance.

“I love you, Chérie,” Louis whispered in her ear.

Before she could respond, Santino drew up a straight-backed chair. She smiled. “Santino, I wanted to thank you for your kindness earlier. I feel terrible for running out on you so abruptly.”

The Italian vampire held up one hand. “Do not give it another thought, Chérie. You seem far less...frazzled, and therefore it was worth the wait.” He extended his hand to Louis, and Louis shook it. “It is good to see you again. I would be happy to help if you seek someone to perform the service.”

“Thank you,” Louis said, appreciatively. “Lestat is making all the arrangements, though. So I will let him know of your generous offer.” He looked around at the milling vampires. “It has been a few years since I’ve seen you and some of the others. Have you heard anything of Pandora?”

Santino shook his head. “Not since we were all here the last time. Perhaps she has taken to the earth.” He shrugged, rising. “I must be going.”

“You’re not staying in the villa?” Chérie asked.

“No, there is far too much mirth for my tastes,” he said, smiling. “I have a room in the city. Perhaps I will return tomorrow night.” Santino extended his hand to Chérie, which she took, and he pressed her fingers to his lips. “It was a pleasure to meet you, carina. All you may hear about me is not all that I am, and I hope we have the opportunity to speak again soon. Good night, Louis.” He turned and made his way to the stairs.

Chérie watched him go and Louis drew her close.

“Always close your mind with him,” he whispered in her ear.

“He was the coven master who burned out Marius, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, and he enslaved Armand, wearing him down until he believed he was a saint of evil,” Louis said.

Chérie shook her head. “So sad. All those years, lost.”

“Who is lost?”

She felt a hand on her shoulder and she looked up. Her smile was joyful. “Armand! Sit with us a while. Please!”

Louis grinned. “Chérie seems to have adopted you, my friend.”

“I can imagine far worse fates,” Armand said, taking the chair Santino had vacated. He leaned forward to accept her kiss and then crossed his long legs. “She has great talent, Louis. She learns quickly, not like some vampires I could name.”

Louis laughed. “I could not see your visions then, Armand.” He narrowed his gaze. “It must have been infuriating for you.”

Armand smiled. “No, I resorted to simpler techniques. That is all.”

Touché. Perhaps the next time the hunger strikes me I could persuade you to show me again.”

“Perhaps,” the auburn-haired vampire allowed.

“How has everyone been treating you, Armand?” Chérie asked, concerned. “They seem very glad to see you here.”

Armand tipped his head thoughtfully. “Only Jesse was a little cold with me, but who can blame her, really? Mael was quite devoted to her. I could not see how any of our kind could be drawn into that...drivel.” He gave a disgusted wave of his hand. “I could only think of how much the television news loved a good scandal, and I had very little time to think, I’m afraid. But I have seen witch hunts begin before.”

“Pandora is the only other I know of who is unaccounted for, but everyone seems to think she has gone underground,” Louis said.

“That is likely,” Armand said. “Her blood was too strong for the sun or perhaps even for fire to destroy her.”

“And your burns, my friend?” Louis ventured.

Armand laughed lightly, holding out his hand. “A rather ingenious disguise, is it not?” He winked at Louis. “Yes, I know that’s not what you meant. There is still some discomfort but it is far less than the pain I awakened in only last night. I am of course grateful to you, Lestat, and Marius.” He shrank back in the chair, frowning.

Louis’s green eyes glimmered. “That really hurt didn’t it? Armand, listen to me, please. I love you and would ease your suffering any way I can.” He smiled. “And don’t look so put out. You gave me one hell of a vision as payment, my friend.”

Armand tried not to smile, but failed. “I am sorry for that, Louis. It was...dirty pool, I know. But you make me so angry with your talk of honor. Sometimes I think you’re too good to be a vampire.”

Chérie smiled. “That’s funny, Armand. I was just thinking something similar about you.” She laughed when the auburn-haired vampire looked aghast. “And what was this vision you gave Louis?”

His smile returned, as angelic as before.

“Burning to death.”

“Ouch! I hope you saved a few horrors for entertaining your enemies,” she said, winking.

Armand laughed. “You are charming, Chérie. I look forward to seeing you with a hundred years’ experience behind you.”

“Why, thank you, Armand. I’ll mark my calendar when I get home.” She saw his curiosity. “What is it?”

“You have a calendar that goes so far ahead?” he asked.

She seemed surprised at the question. “Of course. On my computer. It can track a few millennia, actually.”

Armand’s eyes lighted. “You have a computer.” He looked at Louis as if he’d withheld a great secret. “You didn’t tell me she had a computer.”

“I was rather avoiding it, actually,” Louis grumbled.

“He thinks I spend far too much time with it,” Chérie explained to Armand. “But it’s what I do, how I pay the mortgage.”

“An expert.” Armand smiled, amusement lighting his eyes. “And still paying your own bills. That’s sweet.” He nodded at Louis. “She has no idea of your net worth, does she?”

“The subject never came up.”

The auburn-haired vampire regarded her seriously. “California is a community property state. You should ask, trust me.” He burst out laughing.

Marius walked up with another brown-eyed vampire in tow.

“What are you cackling at, Armand?”

“Louis’s net worth,” he said, rising. “And as amusing as this is, I am afraid I’ve monopolized far too much of their time. I will speak with you later, Chérie. I wish to hear all about your computer.” Armand bowed and walked away.

Louis set Chérie on her feet and stood stiffly. “You are light as a feather, my love, but if I don’t stretch my legs I’m going to turn to stone. Is there anyone on the terrace?”

“I don’t believe so,” Marius said. “Everyone has spread out over the villa and quite a few have gone into the city. Let’s walk out there, shall we?”

Chérie took Louis’s arm and as they stepped onto the terrace, Louis paused to breathe deeply of the early morning air. The salty crispness embraced his face and Chérie smiled up at him.

Marius introduced the brown-eyed vampire. “Eric, this is Chérie.”

Eric was one of those rare creatures, even among their kind, who was easily overlooked but when noticed, always required a second glance, simply to ensure he was real. His long robe, of a design still common in many of the world’s great cities, was homespun and dyed in the old ways, in the palest indigo, a color that caused Louis to smile.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Eric,” Chérie said, extending her hands.

Clasping them in his, Eric searched her face before drawing her into his arms briefly. He smiled as she stepped back.

“You’re so like her,” Eric said. “So like Maharet. But to see such desire and peace in one so young! The same, yet very far removed.”

Chérie became solemn. “My maker drank from the Mother, from Akasha. Are any of us here truly so distant from the others?”

Eric embraced her again, kissing her cheek. “So like her,” he whispered, smiling.

She returned his smile, warmly, as she sat in the chair Marius held for her. As Marius drew up a chair beside her, Louis wandered along the length of the terrace.

Strange. She and Marius were nearly equal in physical age, yet the lines were etched so much more deeply in his face. Louis glanced back at them, intense in their quiet conversation. Indeed, the hardships of Marius’ times were more pronounced, forty then being perhaps like sixty now. He smiled to himself, watching his boots as he walked. He suspected Chérie could hold her own with Marius, however, far better than he ever could. He recalled his first moment alone with Lestat’s mentor and Armand’s maker, how in awe he’d been. That he had managed to utter a syllable at all still amazed him.

Louis shook his head and sighed, staring out across the water at the shimmering reflection of the Miami skyline. He looked up when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Eric had joined him.

“You are fortunate, Louis,” he said, his breath expelling slowly. “I don’t have to tell you how lovely she is, but her acceptance is remarkable.”

“I’m constantly surprised by the depth of her love,” Louis said quietly. “I find myself praying, as I have not done in many years, that this is all not some cruel dream. I have moments of terror, when I see myself as I was.”

Eric nodded. “The hideous fiends we were. I have uttered those same prayers. Tell me, Louis. You exchange blood with her, but did you gain your powers this way?”

Louis’s cheeks flushed and he shook his head. “No, Lestat forbid it when he agreed to make her.” He laughed silently. “We really did need to persuade him. It was from him that I fed when my desire for that intimacy with Chérie grew too strong.” His long fingers reached out to Eric’s robe, smoothing the weave.

Eric grinned and looked down at his garments. “I thought you might like this color. A bit of nostalgia, eh?” He winked.

Louis smiled. “Very much so.”

“You two should retire early,” Eric said, searching the black waters as they heard a speedboat in the distance. “She has already seen much tonight. She shines so brightly, you don’t want her to burn out.”

“You were the last of us for her to meet,” Louis admitted. He patted Eric on the shoulder gratefully and returned to excuse Chérie from Marius’ interview.

“Fascinating! You should be recording all your experiences, my dear.”

Chérie smiled. “Oh, I keep a little journal for myself. But Louis and Lestat are the real storytellers,” she said, as Louis drew her into the villa. Once they had stepped through the doors she whispered, “He is inquisitive, isn’t he?”

Louis laughed quietly. “Oh, yes. He believes he has our existence figured out, but I think you have dashed a few of his theories.”

Maharet and David were talking quietly on the long divan, and he rose at their approach.

“You seem to be surviving the evening well, Chérie,” her vampire brother said.

“You’re kind to say so, David, but I’m perfectly exhausted.” She smiled. “Louis is insisting I take a little nap, even though it is hours yet before the dawn. But I can deny him nothing.”

“And I must steal you away before the others return and it becomes impossible,” Louis reminded her. “Maharet, David, good night.”

Chérie and Louis embraced them warmly before disappearing down the hall.

“We made it,” Louis whispered in her ear, but his smile instantly vanished when the door to the study flew open and Lestat grabbed Chérie by the hand, dragging her inside. “Lestat!” he growled.

But his maker ignored his protest, plopping down on the brocade divan and pulling Chérie onto his lap.

“I don’t know how Armand got this but look!” Lestat pointed a bronzed finger at the enormous television screen recessed into one wall. “I must get a copy of this tape!”

The image was instantly recognizable, a rock concert, but the view was from far away, encompassing the entire stage, on which four tiny figures moved.

Chérie squinted. “That’s not...”

“Wait, wait!” Lestat’s hand shot out. “There!”

The picture changed to a close-up of the guitar player writhing about and then changed again, closing on the singer.

Chérie squealed in delight. “Oh my God! That’s you!” She wrapped her arms around Lestat’s neck and kissed him quickly on the temple. “That’s really you!”

Lestat slipped his left arm around her waist and picked up the remote from the arm of the divan. “Even Louis got into the act.” He clicked the remote as the camera angles changed again and slowly advanced the tape frame by frame. “There’s our darling Louis!” he said triumphantly.

Louis knelt before the set, his long fingers trailing across the screen, following the curtains along the boundaries of the stage. He paled noticeably as his fingers paused over a tall figure transfixed on the singer’s antics.

“My God. I’ve been videotaped.”

His maker giggled. “Oh no! Louis’s been taped!”

“Don’t mock me, Lestat!” Louis snarled. “You may not mind having a vengeful mob of vampires after your pretty head, but I do. And I’ve been dodging them far longer.”

“Lighten up, Louis,” his maker said. “Most of the ones who were after you are dead, and those who aren’t know you were protected from the destruction and are terrified of you.” His lips slowly curled into a malicious grin. “And like you so arrogantly told me, you’re a living legend.” He clicked the remote and the tape continued playing.

Sighing, Louis rose and then sat beside his maker. “I’d like to know how Armand came upon this tape. I’d feel much better if only a few copies are in existence.”

“I hate to disappoint you, Louis, but I believe this is from the cable channel that broadcast the concert live. Every cable operator across the country probably has a copy in their vaults.”

Louis groaned. “Everyone who watched could have taped it.”

“Hey, isn’t that Jesse?” Chérie asked. A young woman had clawed her way onto the stage and latched onto the singer.

Lestat grinned lecherously. “Yes, mortal Jessica.” As she was shown being removed from the stage, he again stopped the tape. “Who else can you see, Chérie?” he challenged.

She crawled out of his lap and sat on her knees on the white carpet, studying the still image. “There!” she said, pointing to the screen. “That’s Daniel!”

“And Armand is just a little to the left,” Louis added.

She quickly found him as well. She glanced over her shoulder at Lestat. “Oh, yes! We must get copies of this tape. I want to see the entire thing, start to finish.”

Louis stood and held out his hand to her. “But not just now, Chérie. We have not quite made good our escape.”

“Escape?” Lestat asked, stopping the tape as Chérie took Louis’s hand and rose from the carpet.

Louis’s eyes twinkled though he tried to look stern. “Yes. Chérie is exhausted, you see, and I’m insisting she take a nap.”

Their maker nodded and made a dismissive gesture. “A ruse, of course.” He started the tape rewinding.

“Of course,” Louis said. “She has been entrapped in enough polite conversations for one night. We’re just going to relax in our suite.”

“And I can finally get out of these boots,” she growled, eliciting a laugh from Louis. “And I wanted to ask a few questions about everyone I’ve met tonight. Will you join us, mon père? I’d love your input.”

Lestat puzzled a moment. “Input,” he repeated, amusement playing across his face. “I like that word. There’s something austerely seductive about it. Sure! I’ll cover your backs so you can make a clean getaway.” He walked to the video player and ejected the tape, slipping it into his coat pocket. He saw their curiosity. “So it doesn’t get mislaid before I can ask Armand about it.”

Louis held the door for Chérie before following her down the hall and up the stairs. Lestat trailed, a few steps behind, checking over his shoulder every so often. He seemed somewhat disappointed when no one challenged their passing.

Keying in the combination, Louis swung the door open and let them enter. The door clunked into place behind him, reassuringly.

Chérie threw herself across the bed, one knee bent, the boot in the air. “Louis, can you please take these off me while I figure out this control panel.”

“The green button--” Lestat began, but her hand shot up to silence him.

“You’re on my turf now, mon père,” she said. “I’m a professional.”

Louis laughed and pulled off her boot. She raised the other one for him and he promptly removed it. He peeled her socks off as well.

“Oh, bless you, my love!” She wiggled her preternatural toes lazily. “Now, let’s see. This should turn on the fan.” She pressed the green button and a breeze came from some unseen oscillator. She grinned and turned back to the panel. “And holding this should increase its rate.” It became almost a wind, rustling the vines gently. “Too much. This should decrease it.” She tapped at another button until she was satisfied. “Elegant design, really. Old components, but a good interface, easy to figure out. One button to turn things on and off, and a pair to adjust the intensity. Elegant. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out what each setting does.”

Lestat watched, enthralled, as she increased the lighting and raised the protective panel to the terrace, an indicator in the far corner going from red to green.

“What’s this one, Louis?”

He stretched out beside her on the bed and peered at the little window next to the settings wheel.

“Attitude. It changes the angle of the light.”

“Far out! What do you think?” she asked, turning her head and rubbing noses with him. “Barely dawn?”

He murmured his agreement and watched the shadows increase dramatically, the light taking on a warm glow as she lowered it to match the attitude.

She rolled off the bed and stood. “Oh, look at what that does to Lestat!” She bounced over to their maker, laying her hands on his chest and looking up into his blue-gray eyes. “That’s perfect,” she whispered.

Lestat stared down at her, captivated. “Louis, I was wrong about this room, it seems. Chérie says it’s perfect.”

Louis came to stand before Lestat. He reached out and pushed the yellow hair away from his maker’s face. “It is perfect. Your hair is positively golden in this light. And you would never leave the room if you could see what it does to that tan of yours.”

Lestat searched his warm green eyes for several long seconds. Louis draped an arm around Chérie before gently kissing their maker. Lestat stroked the silky black hair and then leaned against his fledgling, temple pressed to Louis’s unblemished cheek.

“You have always known exactly what I need, Louis. And you give it to me.”

“I cannot help adoring you, Lestat.”

“Nor I,” said Chérie, leaning her head against his chest.

Lestat wrapped his arms around them both and held them tightly. “And I can no longer pretend I don’t relish it. Perhaps with the others, but not with you two. You are dear to me.” He sighed deeply and roused himself. “But enough of this. You have just become engaged!”

Chérie smiled up at him, accepting his kiss. She drew him to the divan near the terrace door.

“How do you like the ring?” Lestat asked as they sat, glancing at Louis, who lowered himself onto the carpet at her feet. “He went to great care in having it made.”

Chérie blushed, embarrassed. “I hadn’t even thought to look at it, I was so enchanted with the delivery! You two were so wonderful.”

“Yes, we were wonderful. Now look at the ring,” Lestat commanded impatiently.

She did and her mouth fell open. Atop the white gold band was a deep blue stone, cut in a curved teardrop and set somewhat at an angle.

“It’s beautiful, Louis. I’d guess it’s a blue topaz but it’s too dark.”

He shook his head slightly. “Cut sapphire, my love. And it was the cut that took some care.”

“It’s part of the wedding set he had made, so you won’t see the whole effect until later,” Lestat said before Louis gave away the surprise. “And how much later, children? If all goes as planned, you could do this in as soon as seven months.”

Chérie frowned. “A winter wedding? Can we push it out a little farther, so everything will be in bloom?”

Louis smiled, nodding. “I like the sound of that.”

“How does the third Tuesday in May sound? That should be well into Pentecost.” Lestat shook his head and continued under his breath. “Never cared for Lenten weddings anyway, so much like funerals with all those lilies.”

Louis looked up at Chérie and smiled. She appeared puzzled.

“Tuesday? Isn’t Saturday the normal day for weddings?”

He shook his head. “Créole weddings are traditionally held on Monday or Tuesday evening.” He shot a questioning glance at his maker. “And in the home.”

Lestat grinned. “That was only after the Americans invaded and you have no muddy streets to blame for such laziness now, mon petit.” He sighed impatiently. “So. The third Tuesday in May. Are you agreed?”

Chérie smiled at Louis and nodded happily. They turned to Lestat.

“Perfect, then,” he said, shaking his head. “There are so many things to go over now that everything is finally,” he glared at Louis, “out in the open.”

“Oh, forgive me, but not now, please,” Chérie pleaded. “I want to hear it all, but after all that has happened tonight, I would be of no help whatsoever.”

“So young and yet so wise. Your maker must be proud.” Lestat grinned smugly.

A gentle tapping sounded at the door.

Lestat sprang to his feet and was instantly yanking open the door. “It’s Daniel,” he called, stepping aside to let their ward enter.

Daniel was looking at Lestat oddly as he crossed the room.

“Yes, I am stunning, aren’t I?” Lestat sighed, his eyes alight. “But this is hardly news. Sit, Daniel, and tell us what everyone is saying.”

“Well, the one thing they’re all wondering is when the wedding will be and where,” Daniel said, lowering himself onto the divan beside Chérie.

“Third Tuesday in May,” Lestat said, dropping to the carpet and lounging against Louis. “And I’m not saying where.”

“New Orleans, of course,” Louis said, smiling at his maker’s surprise. “But we won’t press you further.”

“You’re guessing!” Lestat accused.

Chérie shook her head. “Shared vision early this evening. We know it’s New Orleans, but not where.”

“That was most everyone’s guess anyway,” Daniel said. “And they’re taking bets on whether Lestat will be father of the bride or best man.” He laughed.

“And why can’t I be both?” Lestat asked indignantly.

Daniel chuckled. “That was Jesse’s prediction.”

“No, mon père,” Chérie said gently. “Louis will need you by his side the entire time. Daniel can give me away.”

“Me?” Daniel seemed thoroughly surprised.

“And why not you?” she challenged.

Daniel shrugged. “Okay, I’ll stand in for Lestat. But he still gets all the bills, right?”

Lestat glared at him. “Of course.”

“And that is the last of the wedding details that will be leaked for the time being,” Louis said. “Nothing else has been finalized, nor will it be tonight. What are they saying about Chérie?”

“Wait, wait!” Chérie interrupted. “I don’t think I want to know what they’re saying, unless there’s a threat I should know about.”

“None that I heard,” Daniel assured her. “Though I don’t trust Santino for one moment.”

“Protective,” Lestat murmured. “That’s sweet.”

“Be nice,” Louis chided. “He has grounds for concern. By the way, Santino has very graciously offered to officiate over the proceedings.”

Lestat laughed dryly. “He would not want anything to do with what I’m planning, so I must find some equally gracious way to decline.”

Chérie smiled. “No grand sabbat then, I take it?”

“No, ma petite. I would not subject you to all that. Now quit fishing!” Her maker smiled warmly.

Daniel cleared his throat impatiently. “I would like to spend some time with Armand before sunrise, so can I get on with this?” Lestat waved him on. “Thank you. The one thing that struck me as odd was that there were quite a few who could not imagine Chérie hunting.” He grinned. “One even seemed worried she might starve herself rather than kill.” He clamped a hand over his mouth, his shoulders shaking with laughter.

Chérie laughed aloud. “Oh, dear! Maharet was right. This will be difficult to live up to. I certainly can’t hunt with each of them just to prove I’m very much a predator.”

“Well, I did let it slip once or twice that we had been hunting only last night,” Daniel said and then frowned. “Such blatant voyeurs! They wanted details, but I don’t kiss and tell, thank you.”

“Bless you, Daniel!” Chérie snuggled up to him and kissed his cheek. “Hopefully, that will circulate.”

“Oh, stop!” Daniel said, giggling. “Armand will smell you on me and then he’ll never let me rest.”

“Oh, I can’t resist!” she said, jumping to her knees on the divan. She held Daniel tightly, chomped her lip, and kissed him full on the mouth.

Beneath his protests, Daniel instinctively sucked on her lip, drawing on the tiny trickle of blood.

She drew back, nose-to-nose with Daniel, slightly out of breath from the effort. “Tease him with that. Now, get out of here while you can.”

Lestat was caught up in a fit of laughter.

Louis, smiling, shook his head as he walked Daniel to the door. “Thank you. They wouldn’t speak freely around us and I suspect it was the same with Lestat. At least now we know she is safe. But one more thing,” he said, resting his hand lightly on the door. “What do they think of a vampire wedding?”

Daniel glanced back at Chérie on the divan and at Lestat, rising to his feet.

“Amused,” he said, pulling the door open and grinning broadly. “They’re amused.” He slipped out into the hall and disappeared.

Louis closed the door.

“Perfect!” Lestat whooped. “I wouldn’t want them taking it seriously until it was too late.”

“Yes, you predicted their reactions with amazing accuracy, Lestat,” Louis said, returning. “I would not have believed their acceptance had I not witnessed it.”

“How long have you two been planning this anyway?” Chérie asked.

“Three of us,” Louis corrected. “Daniel was in on it.”

“Tonight was completely spontaneous, Chérie.” Lestat grinned. “But if it tells you anything, I’ve been carrying that ring for more than a month, waiting for Louis.”

“It had to be perfect, Lestat. And last night, it was.” Louis smiled as he pulled Chérie to her feet and stroked her cheek. “Your blood is unique, my love. You should be more careful with it. We can’t know it’s effect on an old coven master.”

“He is correct, Chérie,” Lestat agreed. “Armand is covetous in this way.”

Her mouth fell open and she planted her hands on her hips, regarding them fiercely. “Such hypocrites! You can say that to me, straight-faced? Knowing full well that only last night you allowed him to fasten onto you both?” She laughed at the irony, seeming to enjoy their contrite glances. Her gaze narrowed. “Sluts!”

They both went ashen.

She glared at them a moment longer and then clamped her hands over her mouth, bursting out laughing.

“You are so easy,” she teased, grinning impishly.

Lestat made a face and Louis nodded. They instantly had her lifted off the floor and tossed onto the bed, falling atop her. A playful growl emanated from Lestat as he subdued her wildly flailing legs. Louis grinned broadly, his fangs revealed, as he finally caught both of her hands and pinned her writhing torso to the bed. His head whipped back, hair flying, as she fearlessly snapped at him with her lethal teeth.

Chérie struggled furiously, but against them both, she was powerless. She tipped her head back and laughed, defeated.

“God protect me from twenty-year-olds!”

Her maker laughed lustily.

“Do you know what she did to me this evening, Lestat?” Louis asked, holding her hands firmly against her chest. “She rises before me, but does she let me sleep?” He shook his head slowly, his lips pressed firmly together and eyes ablaze with mischief.

“Oh, merde,” Chérie muttered, her eyes growing fierce. “Don’t you dare, Louis!”

“Oh, yes, my love,” he said, extending his fingertips, seductively touching the vein at her neck. “You most assuredly have this coming.”

Louis slowly gave his hair a flip, baring his own throat.

“You tease,” she hissed, squirming anew.

He smiled and brought up a knee, his leg across her chest to hold her prone, freeing his hands completely. “It is worse than that, my love.” Louis half-turned, tipping his head and presenting his exposed neck to their maker, close behind him astride her long legs.

Lestat’s powerful fingers closed on Louis’s throat, stroking the pallid flesh until the vein stretched taut. He turned his fiery gaze on Chérie.

She let out a low shriek as she watched Lestat run his tongue along the vein in Louis’s neck and sink his sharp fangs through the resilient skin, allowing the blood to gush noticeably before pressing his lips to Louis’s flesh.

Louis’s hand shot up, grabbing a handful of the golden hair. A mortal gesture. His lips parted as his maker’s arms encircled him, so freely caressing his body. Lestat’s mouth moved on his flesh, setting off an exquisite tingling across his skin, slowly drawing out his blood in ever deeper draughts. His fangs bared as the intimate pulling grew increasingly tighter, his breath coming shallowly as he neared the point of weakness and its luscious, floating laziness. But his eyes remained on Chérie, fixing on the desire he saw in her eyes, love, blood lust, hunger.

He gasped as Lestat withdrew his fangs and moved his tongue over the gash, staunching the flow, the strong hands lingering across his chest as his maker unwrapped himself.

Chérie lay quivering under Louis as Lestat slid up to her, tantalizing her with Louis’s warm blood on his lips, kissing her, parting her lips and then tracing their silky surface with his tongue. He drew back a fraction.

“You love this taste? You want more of it?” Lestat pressed his cheek to hers, mercilessly. “Do you feel how it burns inside me, Chérie?” He drew out her name, voicing the endearment seductively.

She twisted, fangs bared, to gash at his throat hungrily, but he was out of reach. “Not yet,” he whispered and slowly removed his coat.

Louis reached out to unbutton his maker’s shirt and Lestat allowed it, holding himself still. He closed his eyes as his fledgling’s long fingers slid over his exposed chest and spread his collar wide.

Louis moved back and held her legs until Lestat slipped an arm around Chérie’s waist. Their maker pulled her off the bed, immobilizing her arms against his chest as his free hand firmly held her chin. He smiled as her heart pounded against his.

“You see, my dear. I hunger yet and I wish to be filled.” And he stabbed his fangs into her neck, penetrating the vein viciously.

Her eyes flew wide and she breathed in sharply, her hands frantically grasping at her maker.

Louis watched her eyes roll back momentarily as Lestat drew savagely of her blood. Her lids were half veiled as their eyes met over their maker’s shoulder, her passion for him burning.

Lestat pulled up almost imperceptibly, his tongue lapping up the pooling blood as his fangs slid out.

“You may belong to Louis, heart and soul,” he whispered, his lips brushing her flesh. “But your blood belongs to me.” His tongue circled the wounds on her throat. “Never forget. Your blood is mine.” He pressed his teeth through the same wounds, reclaiming her blood. Lestat lifted her and turned so she was no longer pinned.

Her arms surrounded Lestat, clutching his back as he drank deeper, her desire feeding him as much as her blood. With one hand she reached out for Louis and, when he took it, he could feel her weakening, drained as he was drained. She drew him close behind their maker, their lips touching.

Louis felt the heat of their blood radiating through Lestat’s shirt and smelled the blood as it was drawn from Chérie. His hunger crested and he pulled the golden hair aside, burying his face beneath it, kissing his maker’s scorching flesh. Such delicious warmth! He felt a shudder cross Lestat’s back as he pressed his lips to his maker’s throat and drove his fangs through the taut skin.

The blood seared his parched throat, roaring through his icy flesh. He felt its spreading warmth as he heard his maker’s heart join his, pounding. So different this blood, from mortal blood. The power of it pulsed through his veins, seemingly stretching their surface as it became his blood, feeding him. Loving him.

Another shudder crossed his maker’s back and Louis’s lips pressed firmly to the wound, feeling the tingle it elicited.

The vision came, startling him. Flying across the starry sky. Chérie with her mortal arms around his neck, eyes alight in wonder. But it couldn’t be his neck! Rolling, tumbling below the thin clouds. Joy in her eyes. Falling, the air tingling his flesh, falling to stand before himself. Proud to see such fury in his own eyes, so piercingly green! Fury becomes love as he watched himself twirling Chérie to the deafening pounding of their hearts. Their three hearts! A vision shared through their maker!

Louis slowly drew his tongue over the punctures on Lestat’s neck and gently kissed away the last of the blood. He lay on the bed, rolling to look up at his maker.

Chérie was still fastened onto the other side of his neck, locked in the swoon. Lestat’s pleasured gaze sought Louis, his hand reaching. Louis intertwined his fingers with his maker’s, and smiled as he felt the powerful heartbeat through his warm palm.

How I love you both! It was all he could think, and his lips moved with the silent words as he stared into Lestat’s shimmering eyes. They appeared almost green, bathed in the golden light.

Lestat gasped and squeezed his hand hard as Chérie released him, her lips tasting his neck repeatedly.

Louis reached up and gently pulled them both down to lie with him. His hand snaked out for the control panel, pressing the button to lower the terrace panel against the imminent sun. He sighed when the confirming beep sounded reassuringly.

“Such delectable input,” Lestat murmured as his fledglings tangled their limbs about him.

They snuggled in against each other’s warmth and slept, passing unnoticed between mortal and Death’s sleep.

Part II: May 1997

Night Four

Rue Royale

Chérie was already back at work on the long galley pages, reading every word carefully with her red pen hovering. She was determined to finish the task before their wedding three nights hence and in her hands were the final proofs. All errors must be caught, corrected, and reproofed before the manuscript would gain their approval. It was in Daniel’s contract. Lestat had personally paid a visit to Daniel’s editor to ensure there would be no further underhanded substitutions. The editor had so assured him, on his knees.

Louis shook his head and smiled as he walked past his study, leaving Chérie undisturbed with her project. He stepped out of his rooms and into the long hallway, leisurely strolling down the enclosed gallery.

Lestat was still Lestat, and he was more convinced than ever that nothing would ever change that, not for very long. And, he reminded himself, he would never want it any other way.

He knew what Lestat was doing even before he stepped into the front parlor. Louis was always the last to rise and every evening he found his maker engaged in the same activity.

Holding court.

Louis stepped slowly around Lestat’s precious Louis XV furnishings and trod lightly across the exquisite carpets. He rested his hand on the corner of his desk, the desk he had long sought to fulfill his maker’s dream of restoring the townhouse to its nineteenth-century splendor. As he had every night since their arrival, Louis stood and watched Lestat bask in the adulation of his fans, those who had read his books and journeyed far to catch a glimpse of the Vampire Lestat. Mortals and immortals alike.

He smiled. Lestat had certainly dressed the part this evening. He sat perched atop the thin iron railing, his long legs stretched out, encased in tight black leather pants, the soft finish absorbing the lights of the Quarter. Beyond his crossed ankles, his black boots balanced delicately, almost reaching the corner post. The rich black silk shirt draped his broad shoulders perfectly, though the effect was muted by the leather tour jacket he wore over the marvelous fabric. The all-black ensemble made a perfect pedestal for Lestat’s thick mane of yellow curls. Louis could care less for the tinted lenses his maker had donned, though. But they were the de rigueur attempt at concealing himself, however half-heartedly.

Every so often, Lestat would wave or blow a kiss secretively to one of his fans, spying up at him from under the balconies across the street.

“How many are out there tonight?” Louis asked.

“Six just now. All mortal,” Lestat answered quietly. “Are you presentable?”

“I am always presentable, my beloved. It is only you who does not believe so.” Louis smiled. “But yes, tonight I am dressed as you would consider appropriate.”

Lestat tipped his sunglasses down on his nose and stole a glance at his fledgling. He nodded approvingly when he saw Louis’s linen suit, of modern tailoring and in the palest cream. Louis had even left his hair down, brushing it carefully. His maker held out his hand.

“Come. Give them a thrill.”

Louis stepped out onto the balcony and took the proffered hand, drawing it to his breast as he bent to kiss Lestat amiably on both cheeks, his hair tumbling over his shoulders.

They could easily hear the murmur from the little group across the street. Louis leaned against the tall shutters beside Lestat and smiled as he heard his name pass among the mortals.

“I believe you just gave that poor dark-haired thing a heart attack, mon cher,” his maker teased.

Louis glanced down and saw the young woman Lestat indicated. He raised the fingers of his right hand to his lips briefly, in a gesture that was not quite but certainly could have been a salute.

“Why, Louis! You actually seem to enjoy this tonight.”

He smiled. “I am enjoying it. Do you recall when I once told you I wished I could be you? A delusion, of course, because I’ve discovered I very much like being me. But I’ve found I’m no longer repulsed at the thought of being the object of adoration.” He laughed without making a sound. “I will not pretend to understand, of course, nor will I ever seek it out as you do, but that is hardly reason for dismissal on the rare occasions when I’m confronted with it.”

“The living legend,” Lestat snickered.

Louis smiled, his eyes alight. “As I live and breathe.”

His maker was surprised into a fit of laughter and teetered on the high railing. Louis instantly had him in his arms, pulling him to safety on the balcony.

“Good Lord, Lestat,” he hissed, but stopped because his maker was bowing to the smattering of applause that had erupted across the street. Annoyed, Louis grabbed him, waving, by the hand and dragged him back into the townhouse.

Lestat meandered over to lounge on the silver damask divan. He pulled the sunglasses off his face and tossed them onto the table, shaking his head sadly at his fledgling.

“Yes, yes,” Louis admitted. “The fall wouldn’t have killed you, of course. But it still would’ve hurt like hell!”

His maker held up a finger. “Excuse me. You forget that I can fly.”

Louis stormed right up to him, nose-to-nose. “In full view of mortals? And are you so certain you would have remembered that before your pretty head was smashed like a casaba on the cobblestones? Hmm?”

Lestat kissed him on the nose. “I like you this way, Louis. I’ve always loved your righteous anger.” He furrowed his brow playfully. “Come on, Louis! Make up some nasty, horrid rule that I can break!”

“Aren’t you breaking enough of them with these whole proceedings? For crying out loud, Lestat! You even have us taking instruction. And I won’t mention the hours you made me sit in that confessional.” Louis sat in the chair nearest the divan and held up a hand in frustration. “When you know full well we cannot take Communion anyway!”

“Of course you can. There’s always a way. And remember what the good Father said,” Lestat chided him. “‘It’s important to know what the Church expects of the married faithful.’”

Louis groaned and pushed the hair away from his face. “I haven’t practiced my Catholicism in over two hundred years. I’m not exactly what springs to mind when he says ‘faithful.’ And they don’t even use Latin any more, did you know that?”

Lestat leaned forward and spoke quietly. “This is for Chérie. Remember that and it will all work out splendidly. She wasn’t forced into the Church any more than she was forced into being a vampire. She chose this faith consciously, as an adult and after great contemplation, and being Born to Darkness hasn’t lessened her belief, so we must respect that.” He took Louis’s hand. “It’s forever, Louis. And with us, that actually means something. But think of it like mortal death, if you must. Once it’s over, you never have to go through it again.”

Louis sighed and held his maker by the back of his neck, leaning against his blond brow gently. “I know. I must be more anxious about this than I thought.” He touched Lestat’s cheek and rose. “I’m going for a walk. Would you care to join me?”

“Thank you, no,” Lestat said, shaking his head as he settled back on the divan. “I have a million things to check on. And when Daniel and Armand get back, we need to focus on wrapping up your book. I want it done and hopefully tomorrow will be as calm as before any proverbial storm. So if you want any time with Chérie tonight, take her with you now.”

Louis bowed and returned Lestat’s smile. “I believe I will heed your advice for once. Thank you.” Walking from the room he halted, however, before crossing the threshold.

“Oh, and that applause?” He held up a hand and, without turning back, unfurled a finger toward the balcony. “That was for me, Lestat. For saving your pretty little ass.”

His maker burst out laughing.

Louis stepped into the hall. He smiled to himself as he walked beside the gold and white striped wallpaper, boards still creaking under the dark carpet. Louis was fairly certain Lestat had purposefully retained the creaks just so he could hear his passage.

He stepped into his rooms and to the door of the study where Chérie looked much as she had before, red pen poised but motionless. Glennie lay curled about her feet, the big Scottish deerhound nestled up against the enormous mound of fur that was Mojo.

Louis laughed quietly and Chérie looked up.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Lestat will be feeling abandoned if he sees Mojo in here.”

The German shepherd raised his long muzzle at the sound of his name before lazily lying back down.

“Don’t be silly,” Chérie said. “Mojo is simply spending time with his contemporary. He’s probably bored stiff being around you old guys all the time.” She winked playfully.

“And you?” Louis asked, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against the doorframe. “Do you find us boring?”

Chérie set down her pen and, rising carefully so as not to disturb the dogs, came to slip her arms around his waist. “Not in the least. You’re the most fascinating creatures I’ve ever met.”

He kissed the top of her head and wrapped his long arms around her. “Lestat tells me you have a lengthy editing session ahead of you. I’m going for a walk. Why don’t you come with me?”

She glanced at the stack of galleys, at Louis, and back at the galleys guiltily. “Okay,” she said, grinning. “Since you’ve twisted my arm.”

And he did, gently.

“Should we take the dogs?” she asked. “They could use the exercise before they get shuttled off to Lestat’s lady friend.”

“How soon would you like to return? There may not be time to allow Glennie a proper run.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “Good point. Perhaps we can at least let them out on the patio.”

“Courtyard,” Louis whispered.

“Right, courtyard. Thank you. Veranda, not porch. Divan, not couch, though Lestat doesn’t hold with that one.”

Louis laughed quietly. “Well, Lestat still doesn’t know which fork is which.”

“Not that he’ll ever use one again.”

Touché, Chérie. Hopefully, he will never toy with mortality again.” Louis glanced at the dogs. “They look so peaceful. Let’s not disturb them.”

She nodded her agreement. “Let me change before we go. You look positively GQ and I feel so underdressed in my Cal sweats.” She pulled at her fleeced pants and shirt before squeezing past him to duck into the bedroom.

“GQ?” Louis repeated to himself.

“Gentlemen’s Quarterly,” Lestat said, standing in the doorway to the gallery. He stepped up beside his fledgling, eyes scanning the study. “It’s a men’s fashion magazine. You should pick up a copy. It smells nice. I see you have appropriated my dog.”

“A magazine that smells nice?” Louis asked.

“Yes, Louis. Now catch up. Why is Mojo in your rooms?”

Louis glanced back at the slumbering canines and grinned at his maker. “He’s a mortal dog, Lestat. You figure it out.”

Lestat frowned. “Have you ever heard of puppies, Louis?”

Chérie emerged from the bedroom. She was wearing a deep steel-blue rayon shirt, oversized and hanging almost to the knees of her white cotton pants. On her feet was a pair of thonged slippers she called zoriis.

Louis marveled at the swiftness with which she always attended her clothing. He was certain this was attributable to her simple wardrobe and vampiric abilities, but he was no less amazed. And he suspected she timed herself in this ordinary activity. For him, it had been remaining motionless for longer and longer periods. They all did this, he believed, in one way or another.

She crossed the little sitting room and patted their maker on his shoulder. “There’s no need to worry about Glennie. She had a couple of litters when she was younger and then I retired her from the breeding circus. Permanently. She only does that for grins and giggles now.” Chérie smiled lasciviously. “And Mojo is a handsome devil, is he not?”

Lestat’s lips curled into a smile. “Grins and giggles. Pure enjoyment, right? I like that.”

“Seems made for you,” Louis readily agreed.

“You two!” Chérie said, exasperated. “We’re going for a walk. Mojo seems happy right where he is, so leave him be.”

Lestat nodded. “I only wanted to find him before Armand’s return so there wouldn’t be any unfortunate surprises.”

“Well, I’m surprised you haven’t put Mojo up to sire a litter, Lestat,” she said. “Glennie would be heartbroken, of course, but I’m sure you could find a bitch worthy of carrying Mojo’s genes.” She grinned at her maker. “You know, the pitter-patter of little paws around the place?”

A smile played across his lips, but Lestat’s gaze was otherwise distant, unreadable. “Yes, that might be nice,” he said, turning and striding from Louis’s rooms.

Chérie shook her head after him, puzzled, as she wandered back into the study. She stepped to the computer and activated the screen saver. She tried to deactivate it and was prompted for a password.

“Can’t be too safe about this with Armand in the house,” she said, her hand resting lightly atop the monitor, tipping her head to smile at Louis. “I still can’t believe you bought this. I would have enjoyed watching you shop for it.”

Louis smiled. “It was rather anticlimactic, really. I walked into three stores and asked after the best Macintosh available. Their responses were the same.”

“Yes, my love. But they don’t all come as this one did. How ever did you know about the memory, or the storage, or the video?”

“I didn’t,” he said. “And I still don’t. But a phrase like ‘money is no object’ is universally understood.” He laughed quietly. “‘Multimedia’ has a similar effect, I noticed.”

Chérie smiled, nodding her head. “I’ll bet it did. Well, if you’d let me in on the surprise, I probably could have gotten you a better price.”

“Undoubtedly,” Louis admitted. “But you’ve read my financial statements so you know I won’t feel it. And you know how little I cherish all those numbers, beyond the comfort of knowing they are there and that they tally properly.” And seeing the delight in her eyes had been worth far more to him than the few extra dollars he might have paid. “What I cannot believe is that you promptly stuck my photograph on it.”

Chérie glanced back to see that a short video of Louis was playing as part of the screen saver. There were actually several clips of him that played in rotation when the computer was idle.

“Some things are important, Louis.” She smiled up at him, taking his arm as they stepped from the study.

Lestat was nowhere to be seen as they walked to the end of the gallery and descended to the courtyard. Most of the flowers were in bloom and their luscious scents filled the warm evening air.

The wrought-iron gate unbolted and its latch lifted, seemingly of its own accord, as they neared.

“Very nice, my love,” Chérie whispered. “You have that down cold.” She stepped past him onto the street as he held the gate for her.

“Thank you, Chérie,” Louis said, pulling the gate closed and hearing the latch fall into place. “But you should practice.”

“When we return, I promise.”

They quickly cut over to Rue Chartres. Louis knew from experience it was better not to remain on the Rue Royale because Lestat’s fans lingered there. Sometimes their approach was far from polite.

You have a few fans of your own out there, Chérie reminded him silently, reading his thoughts.

One or two, he allowed, smiling.

They walked a few blocks before turning away from the river, up Dumaine. When they reached the Rue Bourbon, they strolled slowly among the tourists crowding the narrow thoroughfare. Other natives were easy to spot for they shared the same leisurely pace, pausing as they did to enjoy the myriad treasures displayed in the shop windows or simply pausing to watch the unending parade of visitors rush past. In the crush of tropical colors surrounding them, no one gave their pallid countenance more than a second glance.

As they crossed before an open tavern door, the recorded music wafting from its smoky interior, Chérie halted abruptly.

“I love that song,” she whispered, drawing Louis into her arms.

“I’m afraid I don’t keep up on modern music,” Louis said. The song was not quite jazz, though it certainly had the forlorn overtones. The singer, he guessed, was English from the softness of his vowels. He suddenly noticed Chérie’s amazed expression.

“Tell me you’re kidding,” she said. “You really don’t know this song?”

Louis smiled and shook his head, puzzled. “Should I?”

“Listen to the lyrics,” she instructed. But the song had ended. She looked around frantically. “Where’s a record store? A big one so we don’t have to worry about standing out.”

“We may need to go outside the Quarter for something large.”

“Something small then!”

They held hands as he led her through the press of mortals. His heart beat a little faster, feeling the excitement of her self-imposed mission. Chérie grinned when she saw the sign for the record store before them and she took the lead as they passed through its portals.

A number of shoppers roamed the store’s narrow aisles, many dressed in bright tourist garb, browsing through the multitude of bins filled with cassette tapes and compact discs. Music blared through unseen speakers and the lighting was thankfully dim.

Down along the ends of the narrow aisles she pulled him, stopping to scan the categories posted considerately above the bins. He about collided with her twice. Laughing quietly, he let her pull him down one row and watched as she scanned the alphabetical dividers before digging in with both hands.

Chérie quickly found her quarry and held aloft the shiny compact disc as if it were a prize.

Louis shook his head and kissed her. They had begun walking toward the cashier when she suddenly pulled him in another direction.

“Wait! There’s something else I want to get while we’re here.” She turned down another aisle. “I’m tired of listening to Lestat’s whining when I borrow his copy and I don’t feel like flying home just to get mine.” Her eyes flashed up at him. “See? You’ve corrupted me, my love.”

He smiled at her teasing. He had done no such thing. It had taken most of the year, but she had come to the realization, on her own and without his intercession, that enjoying her new life made working and paying her own bills exceedingly difficult. Her frustration had finally gotten too great and one night he was delighted when she reluctantly accepted his entreaty to allow him to set up certain modest investments in her name, though she staunchly refused to consider full financial partnership.

Still, Chérie had been staggered by his interpretation of “modest.” He smiled, recalling how he’d worried she might literally faint dead away at one point when she’d seen the figures. He had given her far better preparation before revealing his full holdings. He had not wanted to learn if a vampire could indeed suffer a coronary.

Chérie extracted a disc he recognized. It was the soundtrack for the movie of his book.

“Mood music?” he teased, laughing when the very tip of her tongue impudently parted her lips.

She made her purchases and began unwrapping the first disc the moment they had stepped back onto the street. Chérie pulled the little booklet from the packaging, flipped through its pages, and handed it to him.

“You can listen to it when we get back to the townhouse, but for now just read the lyrics.”

Louis smiled warmly and pointed. “This one?”

She nodded and leaned against the brick edifice as he scanned the words, watching as the smile slowly faded from his face, replaced with astonishment. He flipped to the last page, checked the copyright date, and looked up at her.

“Your song,” Chérie said, nodding. “‘Moon Over Bourbon Street.’ The story is he wrote that after reading your book.”

“And over a decade later, they still sell it?”

“Oh, yes. The artist is probably in the top one percent of his field. World renowned. More fame than Lestat could ever hope to achieve.”

Louis was stunned. How many had heard this song?

“Millions,” she answered, reading his thoughts. She took the booklet and returned it to its case. Louis accepted the discs and slipped them into his pocket as they continued walking.

Chérie seemed lost in thought as they meandered along the streets, turning whichever way struck their fancy.

“The woman in the song, Louis, Mademoiselle de Freniere,” she tentatively began. “Tell me something about her. Something small. One little thing she did that made you smile.”

He was startled by the request. The instant she had said Babette’s name, he expected her to ask as Daniel had asked, if he had loved her. Now he found himself hastily searching his memories. The immortal ones were clear, while the mortal remembrances far more difficult and vague. But something scratched at that distant gray barrier.... His face suddenly softened as his eyes lighted.

“When I was twenty-one,” Louis said. “And only a week after my father had died, years yet before I would meet our dear Lestat, the Frenieres paid their sympathy call. The boy and his five sisters. They were perfectly gracious but after a long week of such visits, I never again wanted to hear another carefully worded kindness. In a few short days, I had gone from apprentice to master of not one but two plantations. There were a thousand details awaiting my attention, yet I was tied hour after hour to these receptions.”

Louis laughed. “Much to my mother’s chagrin, I excused myself far too shortly for mixed company and rushed from the house. I would have ridden out to the fields immediately, but I quite literally fell over Babette, tumbling badly to avoid stepping on her. I had not noticed when she had stolen away and was surprised to find her sitting alone on the steps. She was very young then, perhaps thirteen. She smiled up at me, unaware that anything untoward had occurred, as I furiously brushed the dust from my coat, my waistcoat. All this she watched, innocently fascinated, until I came to the legs of my trowsers and her eyes grew as big as saucers, as they say. Annoyed by the effrontery of her stare, I snapped at her, demanding to know what was wrong.”

“And what did she say?” Chérie prompted.

“In her tiny little voice, full of wonder, she looked up at me and said, ‘Why, Monsieur Louis! Those are the most enormous feet I have ever seen! How ever do you walk with them?’”

Chérie laughed aloud, quickly covering her mouth with one hand. Louis pressed his thumb to his lips and smiled.

“Oh, you must have been mortified, Louis!”

“I was. But it was obvious she was making no commentary on my terribly ungraceful descent moments earlier. Yet I was all too aware of the irony and began laughing. I took her hand and we went back into the house.”

Chérie slipped her arm around his waist. “That is a wonderful memory, Louis!”

“And aren’t you clever for making me remember, my love.” He pressed her free hand to his lips. “Thank you.”

She shrugged. “We must make our own light, n’est-ce pas?” Smiling, she scanned the area to get her bearings.

They had been steadily wandering away from the river and without realizing it, were within sight of the whitewashed walls of the St. Louis Cemetery.

She regarded the thick walls solemnly, taking a step closer, seeming to drink in their very texture, and he thought he saw a shadow cross her blue-gray eyes.

“Show me, Louis,” Chérie said quietly.

“Why, my love? It’s just a grave.”

“I don’t know why,” she whispered, looking up at him suddenly. “But every night....”

There was a desperation in her voice that disturbed him. Louis reached for her, touching her cheek, her lustrous brown hair, her shoulder.

“It haunts you?”

She slowly nodded. “It makes no sense. Why should this place draw me so strongly?”

“Come,” Louis said. As they neared the gate, he heard the lock open. He had not done it. He glanced back at Chérie.

“Only me, my love,” she said, pushing the gate closed once they had stepped inside. “I’ve never been in such a cemetery.” She breathed deeply and crinkled her nose. “Yes, old death. I understand that now.”

Louis drew her through the little city of crypts with their peristyle roofs, marble alcoves littered with candle stubs and wilted flowers. Down narrow corridors and into the oldest section of the cemetery she followed him. He halted and pulled her gently into his arms.

“It’s only an empty tomb, Chérie,” he assured her. “Nothing more.”

“I know, Louis. But I must see it.”

“Then see what you shall see, my love.” He held her shoulders as he turned her around.

A startled gasp escaped her and she leaned to touch the old script, his name, Louis de Pointe du Lac. Her knees buckled and she sank to the ground before the tall crypt. Both hands against the marble, tracing the dates.

Her touch was delicate, almost as if she was stroking his flesh. She was mourning him! In a blinding flash, he knew she was mourning his mortal death. Not the false one etched into the marble, a death presumed when he had put Pointe du Lac to the torch in seventeen ninety-five. Her head bowed, forehead pressing against his crypt, and he saw great drops fall, splatter, and soak into the ground. Blood tears.

“Oh, dear God. Louis,” she softly moaned. It was not to him, but for him she interceded.

Her mind was opened to him and his breath caught, confronted with his own emotions, the loneliness he had not known she recognized. Such sorrow! The death that came before Lestat relieved him of his mortal life, giving up on living, abandoning the control that had been so dear to him. And the pain that had been his alone as he had forsaken his life, the total despair that no one could see, and no one had mourned. Until that moment.

Louis dropped to one knee and held her.

“Two hundred years,” she whispered, her sweet voice agonized. “More than two hundred years you’ve lived with this loneliness? How could you endure it?”

He could not answer her. How shallow it seemed to say that the mind adjusted and went on. How meaningless to glorify his capacity for pain. How very pointless! Louis said nothing, for he had endured nothing.

She rose slowly and held his face between her hands, thumbs moving gently along his temples.

“I have a bone to pick with Lestat. The enormity of his ego is no excuse for such disregard.”

Louis stood. “That feast will have to wait, my love.”

Chérie nodded and sighed deeply. “It would probably not be a satisfying meal at any rate.” She smiled.

How many more gifts was she to give him? His long fingers rested briefly against the tomb beside his own before he returned her smile and gazed up at the stars. His green eyes sparkled as he slid his arms around her waist, wishing them upward.

And the cemetery immediately fell away below them. Up they rose, above the city, the mist stinging their faces as they passed through a gathering cloud and into cooler air. Chérie held fast to him, her arms about his neck, letting Louis guide them as they drifted. Her eyes watched the stars grow brighter. Always looking ahead.

“Have you told Lestat how much you really love this?” she asked, her lips to his ear.

He shook his head, turning them suddenly, happily. Exerting himself against the air currents, they lost forward motion and seemed to hover. It reminded him of lying in the grass along the levee, still though not quiet.

“I don’t need to tell him, my love. He knows. He has always known. I was arrogant to think he was unaware of all this.” He spread his arms wide and the wind pushed them around gently.

Chérie let out a delighted laugh as she hung on tightly.

Louis glanced at the tiny lights below them and then back at Chérie, his face a question.

“Yes,” she said, kissing him quickly. “I suppose we should return. Daniel and Armand are certainly back by now. And I’m sure Lestat is waiting.”

“Let him wait,” Louis said, furrowing his brow playfully, though he began their descent. It seemed to him as one exceedingly high step, the wind rushing upward around them as the glow of the Quarter rose to engulf them. And they were at once standing outside their own gate, alighting faster than mortal eyes could detect, though none were in evidence.

The bolt rasped, the latch clacked, and the gate eased open.

Chérie smiled up at him and all but bounded through the gate, holding it wide for him and bowing grandly as he passed.

He laughed and, securing the gate, followed her into the courtyard, past the overflowing beds of jasmine and lantana. They stepped around opposite sides of the fountain, water flowing out of the cornucopia shell to splash around the feet of the stone nymph, lost in its silent contemplation, the guardian water lilies swayed by the eternal, rippling motion, and she came into his arms. He twirled her, turning to unheard music. She seemed happy.

“I am happy,” Chérie said aloud. “I would enjoy dancing with you all night. But right now, I believe there are two blood drinkers up there waiting for me.” She demurred. “You’ll save me the last dance?”

“Every night, my love.”

They mounted the curving iron stairs to the flat on the second floor.

Light shone under the back parlor’s closed doors, but they continued to his rooms. Daniel rose from the leather swivel chair in front of the computer as they entered Louis’s study. Lestat did not look up from the galleys.

“Passwords, Chérie?” he growled. “You put up passwords against us?”

She smiled sweetly and delicately held his chin as she kissed his cheek. “And you use none on that dinosaur of yours, mon père?” When he would have defended his computer, she held him off, covering his lips lightly with the fingers of one hand, unruffled by his fierce scowl. “No, no, it’s all right. Microprocessors are like anything else. We are locked in time with them as well, I suppose.”

Lestat’s blue-gray eyes seethed as she smiled and gently pushed the hair back from his face. And then he began to laugh.

“Oh, Chérie! Such children I have!” He abruptly checked his laughter and extended his tanned fingers to Daniel. “Now will you help him surmount the ramparts you have thrown up? Watching Louis is one of my favorite pastimes, I’ll admit, but we have work to do and he can’t even change the CD, ma petite.

“I’ve gotten through three of them,” Daniel said. “Louis, Luis, Luigi...the pattern was not difficult to pick up.” He raised an eyebrow and leered. “Sort of a one-track mind, I’d say.”

She seemed to ignore him, running her fingers through her hair. “Well, I want to change before we get started.” She paused at the door and turned to Daniel. “One hint should be enough.” Chérie grinned. “All of my typos are spelled properly,” she said and left the room.

Daniel shook his head and let out a laugh, ashen strands falling into his face.

“I try every language in creation and I overlook the most obvious one.” He grinned at Lestat. “American.”

Louis laughed as Daniel typed. Louie.

“Of course, I’ll change them all before sunrise.” Chérie returned, wearing a teal cotton shirt over drawstring pants of identical design. Laundry marks were dyed onto the backs of both garments. She was pulling on a white cardigan, a rare concession to her vampiric body temperature.

“Scrubs!” Daniel said, grinning. “I haven’t seen a pair of scrubs in years.”

She shrugged. “Nobody wears them any more, but I got used to them at Berkeley.” She glared at her maker, as if daring him to say anything.

Lestat held up his hands innocently, but his eyes danced. He nodded at Daniel. “Now get my CD out of that thing, will you?”

Daniel pressed a button and, with a whir of servos, the tray slid out and he lifted the reflective disc. He turned it on his finger to read the title.

“The movie soundtrack?” It seemed amusing to him. “Where’s the box?”

“Top drawer,” Chérie said.

He pulled it open and retrieved the jewelbox, returning the disc to its proper place. He looked up at Chérie.

She nodded and held out a hand toward Lestat. “It’s his.”

“Which reminds me,” Louis said. He retrieved the compact discs from his pocket and handed the soundtrack to Chérie.

“Thank you, my love,” she said. She glanced at her maker but said nothing more.

Lestat’s lips curled into a smile.

Daniel was more interested in the other disc.

“What’s that one, Louis?”

“Something a little old, I’m afraid.” He held up the box.

Daniel recognized the cover and nodded. “Good album. Classic.” His brow furrowed. “You’ve never heard it, have you?”

Louis pressed his lips tightly together and shook his head. “No. I only learned of it tonight.” He smiled at Chérie.

“You really should keep up, Louis,” Lestat teased. “Even I knew about that, and I was six feet under at the time.”

Chérie had moved to stand behind him, pulling his blond curls back and tying them off with a green ribbon.

“Sure. And you called it to you like the moles and the kittens.” She giggled. “Come on, Lestat. At least keep it believable. You had already arisen when it came out.”

He whirled on her. “So I didn’t buy a copy for three years! Big deal! I was busy at the time, if you’ll remember. And even then I didn’t get it for his song.” He flicked a hand at Louis. “How often do you hear someone work battlements into a song, after all?”

Chérie smiled. “You know, that song always did make me think of you.” She peered over his broad shoulders as she rubbed them gently, at the notes he had scrawled on a legal pad. “You have the most lovely handwriting, mon père.

He glanced up at her. “Merci, Chérie. Now, children, we must really get to work.” Lestat’s gaze shifted to Louis. “Are you going to stay and help?”

Louis held up a hand. “Thank you, but no.”

He bowed slightly, turned, and crossed the sitting room to his bedroom, half closing the doors behind him. Louis dropped the compact disc on the four-poster bed and stepped to his armoire. Removing his coat, he hung it carefully and pulled a bulky wool sweater from a drawer. He changed with minimal motions, ran a brush through his hair, and soon emerged, carrying the CD with him to the back parlor.

He heard a few notes sound from the harpsichord and he smiled. Louis had always loved the delicate, metallic music of the instrument and had hunted a long time to find one of exquisite craftsmanship, without modern manufacturing. Lestat, of course, had accused him of hopeless sentimentality, but Louis had merely smiled, knowing his maker delighted whenever he had shown the least interest in restoring the flat.

Louis pushed the doors wide and saw Armand seated at the instrument. He slowly crossed the pale red Persian carpet and approached a large armoire, which opened to reveal all manner of electronic devices. He pressed a master switch and indicator lights winked on throughout the dark cabinet. He inserted the compact disc, activated the player, and closed up the armoire. The music rose from the many speakers concealed about the room.

Armand had moved to the cluster of antique chairs and Louis joined him there, taking a seat close beside the auburn-haired vampire and crossing his long legs.

They sat quietly and listened to the song’s lilting pleading, of freeing those you love.

“It’s not quite jazz, is it?” Louis mused. “But it’s a far cry from Lestat’s rock music.”

Armand smiled. “New Age, my friend. Ironically enough. I prefer Jorge Strunz myself, to this Englishman.” His dark brown eyes filled with amusement. “Your song is not until near the end of the album,” he said, using Daniel’s term for the vinyl predecessor of the compact disc.

Louis laughed silently. “I am the last to hear of this song, I see.”

“Oh, I am certain there is a tribe in New Guinea who has not heard of it,” Armand said, his expression very serious, but teasing nonetheless.

Reaching out and touching Armand’s tanned face, Louis felt the warmth of his flesh. He had fed, very recently. The thirst for blood rose suddenly. Louis allowed it to suffuse his being a moment before pushing it away from his conscious thought.

This did not escape Armand’s attention. “You will go with me tomorrow night, Louis.” It was not a question.

Louis nodded and draped an arm along the back of the chair. “Yes, that is probably wise. I do not wish to be distracted just now.” A tiny laugh. “But you may wish to query Lestat. He has planned every other detail and I would not be surprised if he has thought of this, as well.”

Armand puzzled. “How long since you last fed?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “Eight, nine months? Not since you tried to teach me once again, my patient friend.” Louis flipped his hair back over his shoulder and smiled apologetically. “It’s simply not my way, Armand. I must be more pragmatic about the enjoyment I get from my unsuspecting victims.” He seemed lost in his own thoughts for several long seconds and then slowly roused himself. “Without regard for who they are or what they have done, I can give my victims the pleasure of their lives at the moment of death.”

“You feel their ecstasy now, as well as your own,” his friend said, a question that was discreetly not a question.

Louis smiled. “Yes. Though I had always believed this was so, it is only with my last few victims that I have known this sublime pleasure, this...rapture.” His thirst rose again suddenly and he breathed deeply, forcing it away.

The music had changed to something dismal and faintly militaristic, the singer chanting about the futility of war. It was quite moving, artfully demanding recognition of the humanity on both sides.

Armand seemed lost in listening to the song, eyes closed and nodding every so often, and Louis enjoyed having the moment to watch his friend. Yes, it was these discussions with Armand he had missed perhaps most. While he had often found the pretense tedious, boring him almost literally to tears, there had never been a subject he could not raise with his friend. Armand always appeared keenly interested, giving no hint if it were otherwise, in even the most mundane topics.

Louis took his friend’s hand. “You’ve been here two nights and I’ve hardly had the opportunity to speak with you. Tell me how you and Daniel are doing.”

But Armand was examining the pale fingers surrounding his tanned hand. He ran his free hand over Louis’s ridged skin, pressing the unyielding flesh, hardened by the enormous infusion of Lestat’s blood two years earlier, the opalescence heightened by the continual sharing with Chérie.

“So beautiful,” Armand uttered and looked up. “But you should take some sun, Louis, as Maharet does.”

Louis withdrew his hand and slowly shook his head. “Perhaps if Chérie decides to do this, I will consider it. But I know the pain you shared with me.”

“I do not believe it would be as bad as that.”

“Perhaps not. I’m not going to do it just to find out, however. And the timing of such a thing would be more difficult than the Théâtre des Vampires.” He smiled. “Now tell me about our Daniel.”

Armand smiled. “Yes, wasn’t it delightful how they had me saving you in the film?”

“My hero,” Louis scoffed. “I found it more amusing that they had us wandering around after sunrise. Ludicrous.” He regarded the auburn-haired vampire suspiciously. “You keep ignoring me, my friend. You do not believe I have designs on Daniel, do you?”

“Don’t you?” The brown eyes had become hard.

Louis smiled. Questions within questions. He hadn’t done any real verbal sparring in two years, not since telling Lestat, in so many words, that he was too old for such foolishness. Armand, however, was a tempting challenge.

“Of course not,” he said. “Are you saying we’ve ruined him for you?” he teased.

A sharp laugh escaped Armand’s lips. “Do you think it is in your power to do so?”

“Perhaps not,” Louis admitted. “But tell me, my friend. Don’t you enjoy his confidence?”

Armand opened his mouth to speak, but Louis cut him off with a wave of his hand.

“His finer understanding of financial matters? The unabashed love he showers on you?” He smiled wickedly. “Ah! Or does it upset you that Daniel is now your slave only when he chooses?”

Armand was dumbfounded into silence.

Louis grinned and settled back in his chair. “Face it, Armand. You do not like losing your mastery over the boy. You enjoy being the puppetmaster.” His gaze softened. “But now you are freed from constantly working the strings. Let him perform for you, only you.”

“You truly do not want him for yourself?”

He shook his head and shrugged. “You were everything to him and he was lost without you. We only wanted to help him.” Louis sighed. “And you did not see his heart break when he heard your voice on the television. If you had, you would not question how much he is yours.”

Armand nodded slowly. “I have felt this from Daniel. But I have also felt his love for you.”

Louis smiled. “Hasn’t he always loved me, though? His first vampire? I’m afraid that is something we may never escape. I too was unable to shake some of the images he has of me.”

Murmuring his agreement, Armand suddenly touched Louis’s shoulder.

“This is your song.”

They sat quietly listening. He could feel Armand’s eyes studying him, but he tried to ignore that and focus on the sad lyrics, the morose quality of the melody. Louis smiled briefly when his hands were likened to those of a priest. And he laughed aloud when a wolf’s lonely howl echoed after the song’s end.

“The oboe is a nice touch in the refrain, and the saxophone responding to the singer.”

Armand scowled. “The oboe is synthesized, I believe. And do you really wish to critique the composition?”

Louis shook his head. “No, I suppose not.”

A crash of rain interrupted, the last song beginning.

Holding a finger to his lips, Armand whispered, “Listen and tell me who this brings to mind.”

He did as he was bidden. There was indeed some clever verbal imagery, as Lestat’s comment had alluded, but the prevailing theme was of putting up barriers and then finding oneself imprisoned behind them. He smiled.

“That’s Lestat,” he nodded. “Though from the copyright date, it’s probably vanity to presume so.”

“Have you read the liner notes?” Armand asked. “It attributes your book as the inspiration for your song.”

“But no mention of Lestat’s autobiography?”

Armand shook his head and rose. He crossed to the armoire and pressed a few buttons. His song again played.

Louis laughed quietly. Would they never grow tired of watching him? He closed his eyes and let the music fill his senses. Yes, the metre almost matched the pace of his walk in those days before Claudia. And the lyrics painted a picture more resigned than sad.

Retrieving the disc when the song ended, Armand placed it in its case and handed it to Louis.

“Thank you. It’s strange, Armand,” he said. “I knew when I agreed that Daniel would publish our interview, in San Francisco at least, and I was prepared for the exposure. But this.” He hefted the disc before slipping it into his pocket. “This is a surprise.”

“The affection he conveys?” Armand ventured.

Louis smiled. “Yes. I never despised my life, but I tried to tell my story as a warning.”

“It should not surprise you, Louis. You have never been good at deceiving anyone. Other than yourself.” The auburn-haired vampire lowered himself into his chair and leaned across his knees. “You are the most beautiful of us all and words cannot conceal that.”

Louis blushed and shook his head. “No, there is Chérie now.”

Armand smiled. “She is beautiful, yes, but her greatest beauty is her passion for you. It is your own beauty you see reflected in her face.”

“Enough!” Louis said, holding up his hands in defeat. “I will never agree and I’m powerless to win this argument against you.” He laughed. “How is the penthouse? Comfortable enough for you?”

“Yes,” Armand nodded. “Since I took down all those abstracts, it has been quite pleasant. What is the appeal of Mondrian, anyway?”

Louis shrugged. “You ask the wrong vampire. You know I favor the impressionists.” He rose and wandered about the room. “As does Chérie, thankfully, though she has an attachment to photographs of waterfalls.” A laugh escaped him and he turned to Armand. “And then there is her room that contains nothing but framed film posters.” He shook his head. “Someday, perhaps, I’ll understand.”

“Does she still collect them?”

“Oh, yes. She put up a new one just before we came here. I had asked her to move the one from our movie. There was the actor pretending to be Lestat, glaring out at me in the bedroom.” He grinned. “It was too distracting.”

“I can see how that might be,” Armand said, suddenly standing. “There is something I must attend to. Tell Daniel not to wait for me. I may not be able to return before tomorrow night.”

Louis furrowed his brow. “Is everything all right?”

The auburn-haired vampire paused at the door. “Yes. There is nothing to worry about. Make certain Daniel does not worry.”

He nodded and Armand stepped from the room, only to pop back in almost immediately. He held up a finger sternly.

“Nothing more,” he admonished.

Louis laughed and laid a hand over his breast. “Nothing more,” he echoed, bowing slightly. He heard Armand pass out of the townhouse and shook his head. What ever could that be about?

He flicked off the electrical switch and the chandeliers went out. Louis sighed. Blessed darkness. He had no aversion to the light, in fact he loved it at times. But it was never as magical to his vampire eyes as the dark. He scooped up a candlestick between two fingers as he slowly crossed the room. Or the wavering light of a single candle.

He felt the heat gather within him and the wick instantly caught. A smile spread across his face and his eyes danced as he cupped the flame and sat at the harpsichord. From his very first night as a vampire, this simple pleasure had never ceased to fascinate him. The blue-white brilliance as it wrapped itself around the glowing red wick. The constantly changing shades of orange and yellow, each gradation distinct and shimmering like satin.

Perhaps this is what Chérie saw in waterfalls, as well, the ever-changing sameness.

He set the candlestick atop the instrument and let his fingers slowly cross the keys, picking out notes here and there. He had never been a player, really, though his vampiric abilities allowed him to mimic perfectly any song he heard. But knowing he was not creating anything prevented him from taking any pride in his playing. He simply loved the sound of the instrument. He tapped out the refrain of his song, pausing and backtracking occasionally to correct a note. Louis smiled. It matched his natural rhythm remarkably, though the tinny, staccato quality of the harpsichord changed the tone rather dramatically.

“That’s beautiful, Louis.”

He started and turned his head to see Chérie standing at his shoulder, her eyes soft and shimmering in the candlelight. He smiled.

“It’s just a song,” he said, his voice hushed. “I cannot take credit for its beauty.”

“For that song you can, my love.” She sat beside him, facing the room. “It was of your beauty he wrote.” She smiled. “For once, the credit is irrefutably yours.”

He longed to hold her, to kiss her silky lips, but the longing was itself intoxicating. He contented himself with running his fingers gently over her cheek, the candlelight gathering in her iridescent flesh. Glowing.

“First Armand, and now you. I do not see myself as you see me, and I’d much rather gaze upon you.”

“Have you tried, Louis? To see as we see?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Oedipus before the glass?”

“As you live and breathe.”

“Zut,” he muttered, his expression ashen.

Chérie giggled. “Yes, Lestat told us of the little incident on the balcony.” She leaned over to kiss his cheek, but he turned quickly, pressing his lips to hers, wrapping his arms around her, and drawing her onto his lap. His hunger rose again and he pulled away slowly.

“I’m sorry, my love. Lestat was throwing that idiotic ‘living legend’ remark in my face again and, well....” His cheeks flushed.

She grinned. “Well, you certainly shook him up. He may never stop laughing.”

“Good. Then he can’t repeat it.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t count on that,” she said sympathetically. “I doubt you’ll ever live this one down. At least he’s not writing a book just now, so you’re probably safe from that.”

Louis swallowed hard. “But he is working on a book, my book.”

Chérie emphatically shook her head. “No. There’s no way he can slip that in. It has no tie to the story.”

“And his foreword?”

“These are the final galleys, Louis. Everything is in there and only typos have been changed since you did your read-through. And we still have sign-off on the blue lines, which are from an actual test printing. Relax!”

“Yes, please relax,” Lestat said from the door. He strode over and squeezed Louis’s shoulder. “I’ll save it for my next book, if I ever write one.” He leaned down, his lips against Louis’s ear. “I’ll lie, of course, and you’ll come off flippant and whiny, as usual,” he whispered.

Louis groaned. “Come on, Lestat. Haven’t we moved past that?”

His maker nodded. “For now. But I’m sure you’ll do something to piss me off between now and then.”

“Play nice, you two!” Chérie scolded, climbing off Louis’s lap.

“As you wish, my love.” Louis tipped his head, puzzled. “But I thought you would be working until dawn. Why are you both out so early?” He furrowed his brow. “You’re not making Daniel do all the work, are you?”

“And why not?” Lestat asked. “His name goes on the royalty checks, so why shouldn’t he package up the galleys?”

“And run them up to the shipping office,” Daniel grumbled as he entered, a cardboard box under his arm. “Where’s Armand?”

Louis swiveled on the bench and rose. “He said he had something to attend to but didn’t say what.”

“Maybe I should wait for him.”

“No. He said he might not make it back until tomorrow.” He smiled. “Don’t worry, Daniel. We were talking and he jumped up as if he’d forgotten something.”

Daniel nodded and started for the door. “Well, I’d better get this out to the airport.”

“Wait! I’ll give you a ride,” Lestat said, trotting to catch up with the young vampire. “Do you have gloves? You’ll need them.”

“Your car has a heater, doesn’t it?” Daniel asked.

“Car? No. No car. Scoot.” Lestat grinned and turned up his collar. He slapped a pair of leather gloves across Daniel’s chest. “Here, use these.”

“Scoot?” Daniel glanced back at Louis. “A motorcycle?”

“Harley-Davidson,” Lestat corrected.

Louis smiled and waved. “Don’t worry!”

Chérie shook her head and laughed when they had gone. “I hope he survives.”

“I’m certain he will,” Louis said, walking to the armoire. He opened an interior compartment and selected a compact disc. As the music filled the room, he crossed and stood before Chérie.

She took his extended hand and he guided her to the middle of the room.

“As I recall, I owe mademoiselle a dance,” he said, bowing, drawing her close, and placing his free hand gently in the small of her back.

Panic filled her face. “I don’t...they haven’t taught ballroom dancing in a long time, Louis.”

He smiled down into her frightened eyes and pulled her a little closer. “Like this then. Take tiny steps, three or four if you like, and you’ll be fine. It comes quickly.” Removing his hand from her back momentarily, he guided her free hand to his shoulder. “There.”

As Louis led them around the floor, Chérie’s lips parted and she glanced down at their feet.

“Up, my love. Keep your eyes up. You do not need to think about your feet when you walk beside me. It is the same now.” He smiled. “We are only walking in circles.”

She laughed and it was music to him. Even in her apprehension, her blue-gray eyes were filled with trust. He turned her gently and her eyes grew wide, pleased when her feet didn’t falter. Slowly, he increased their pace and gave her more room to maneuver. By the time the piece finished, she had the steps mastered and curtsied in her scrubs in response to his bow.

“Again,” she said, delighted, as the next piece began.

“Never two in a row, my love,” Louis instructed as he led her to a chair. “This is New Orleans, after all, and these traditions are still practiced.”

“And I am indeed fortunate to have a true gentleman teach me these things.” Chérie smiled and beckoned him into the chair beside her. “Really, Louis. I’d be lost without you. All I know of manners and Southern traditions are what I’ve read in books. Beyond keeping our elbows off the table, which is more or less moot at this point, not much is taught. Now, shunning two consecutive dances is easy to understand. It’s unseemly to come off the dance floor sweating.” She shrugged.

“Correct,” Louis said, smiling. “A lady should not be seen perspiring. And ignoring this shows a lack of discerning thought, a preference for frivolity and one’s own needs.” He laughed.

Chérie smiled, puzzled. “What is it?”

“I haven’t done this since I taught Claudia.” He smiled. “Lestat complained endlessly, but he was always proud of her.”

“Good memories?”

“Oh, yes.” Louis sighed and then clapped his hands together. “This doesn’t need to be so formal. Why don’t you go change into a dress? Something casual, I’m only in a sweater after all. And heels, so you can get used to dancing in them.” He smiled and raised an eyebrow. “I will make you dance at your wedding, you realize.”

“Oh merde,” she muttered, and stood. “I am glad I shaved my legs that last day.” She touched his shoulder quickly and scurried from the room.

Louis laughed. He had been terribly remiss in preparing her for her first meeting with Lestat, two years earlier. But she’d known what she was getting into and had made sure her hair was right and even her nails, which she’d later confided were usually at odd lengths, broken on her keyboard. She had been thrilled when she had lost weight, citing the loss of something she called “comfort foods,” which he didn’t pretend to understand. Her shape, though slighter, was the same, for which he was glad.

He strolled to the armoire and fed the changer several compact discs, selections he suspected Lestat would make. He might as well prepare her for the worst. He turned as he heard her step back into the parlor.

Chérie had slipped into a simple black dress of straight lines, modest neckline, and no sleeves. And matching pumps. She walked toward him and Louis sighed. When she came within reach, she crooked a finger under his chin, closing his mouth.

“Monsieur Louis! You’ll catch flies,” she teased. “I see I must wear this more often.”

“You look stunning, Chérie,” he said.

“Merci, merci beaucoup,” she said. “And what are you packing the changer with?” She scanned the discs and clucked her tongue. “Lestat’s favorites? But you forgot one!”

She pulled another disc from the racks.

“‘The Vampire Lestat?’ I don’t think he will, not with this group. Even he only rarely listens to it.” Louis shook his head. “There are too many bad feelings from that time. He wouldn’t have the--”

“Audacity? Of course, he would. And if I must be prepared for the worst, so must you.” She grinned and wiggled the disc until he took it and placed it in the changer as well.

“You win, my love,” Louis said. He set the changer to play randomly and extended his hand. “May I have this dance?”

“For the rest of my life,” she whispered, taking his hand.

Louis breathed a sigh of relief when a waltz began. He turned her and her feet remembered. He smiled.

“Very good, Chérie.” He quickly brought them up to full speed, turning gracefully with the music as they made their way around the room.

“Now, to be doing this properly, I should be mirroring your steps, is that right?” Chérie asked, her eyes locked to his.

“To some extent, yes,” he said. “There will be times when you cannot, but you will recognize those. Think....” He grinned. “Think Fred and Ginger.”

“Oh, honey,” she quietly cried, her voice taking on an urban quality. “Fred Astaire could only wish he moved as gracefully as you.”

“Such flattery.” Louis laughed aloud. She had a talent for dialects, switching from Scottish to British to Latin at will. She knew the difference between Georgia and Tennessee, Brooklyn and Rhode Island, claiming it was due to years of working by telephone.

“Truth,” she said, looking up at him with so much love he nearly wept. “The honest-to-God truth.”

The piece ended and he pulled her against him, drawing her hand around his back, freeing his hand to hold her face as he kissed her.

“I love you, Chérie.”

“And I love you.”

As they sat, another piece began. Her brow furrowed, puzzled but with recognition.

“A tarantella,” he prompted. “Faster, more lively than the waltz, but nearly identical. In fact, some variation on the waltz suits most of the European composers.”

She laughed quietly. “I can imagine you at some ball, all the young ladies swooning at your feet for a dance.”

“Oh, dear Lord,” he said, his expression lighting. He shook his head. “If they were, I was unaware of it. I don’t remember a soirée or ball where I didn’t dance, of course, but that’s simply what you did then. There was an entire season set aside for it.”

Chérie raised an eyebrow. “And the unseasonal balls?” Her smile widened when he blushed. “Don’t look so shocked! I’ve read enough torrid romances to know they existed.”

“Yes, but not when I was mortal. Later, and by then they had little bearing on me, other than they were a favorite hunting ground for Lestat.”

“Of course.” She looked somewhat embarrassed. “My sense of the history is atrocious, I’m afraid. You even told Daniel of the differences.” She furrowed her brow and stared at her hands in her lap.

“What, my love? Truly, you may ask me anything, regardless of how I might blush.” He lifted her chin and smiled warmly.

Chérie’s gaze was sad as she searched his eyes. “You owned slaves, Louis.” She looked away. “It has been very difficult to reconcile that the Louis I love so completely began life as a slaveowner.”

Another piece had begun, but he ignored it and settled back in his chair.

“No, I began life as a child, Chérie. And children then obeyed, without question, or they were beat. I was never beaten. Yes, I grew up playing with the black children and I learned of lovemaking in the slave cabins, but as the eldest, I was prepared from my earliest memories to own it all.”

A tear streamed down Chérie’s face and he handed her his handkerchief. He longed to hold her but did not. That must be her choice. He continued as before.

“Whatever moral questions I may have pondered, I don’t recall. The immediacy of balancing one year’s crop against the next took precedence over everything. Every life on the plantations depended upon it, and every life that fed on its fortunes. Slaves as well as freemen must be fed.”

“Like cattle,” she whispered.

“To some extent,” he conceded. “But more like vital tools, that if left unattended would rust and break. Our slaves were never wont for food, their clothes never neglected, and their quarters were well-maintained. This was not generosity my part, make no mistake. It was the prudent protection of an investment. As paltry as the sums sound today, slaves were an enormous expense then, and replacing them, costly. To let even one weaken unnecessarily was unthinkable.”

“And Lestat killed your overseer.”

“Yes, a bright, intelligent man despite any doubts I may have harbored from time to time.” He laughed wryly. “It was probably the kindest thing Lestat has ever done. No, think on it,” he said when she looked puzzled. “Here was this invaluable part of the plantations, someone I could scarcely afford to be without, and Lestat takes him without a care. How much more could he have shown me of what my life would become? He could not have made it any clearer. He knew I valued the lives of my slaves, and the freemen in my employ, higher than that of any maid he could have lured from the grandest ball.”

“He gave you understanding.”

Louis smiled. “Yes, with that one act he let me understand the depth of the changes my life would undergo. And I embraced this freedom from responsibility. I didn’t care one whit about getting away from being a slaveowner. That was but one of my responsibilities. They would become someone else’s slaves.”

He sighed. “I can’t tell you there weren’t beatings on Pointe du Lac, my love, nor can I say that I didn’t barter with human lives. I ordered these things and conducted such business with my own hands.” He stared at his long, hard fingers. “Do I regret that these things were necessary? With what I know now, certainly. Do I think I could have changed the way things were? Not for a moment.”

They sat quietly, neither speaking, until the piece ended and one of Lestat’s songs began, his requiem to his mother.

Chérie rose slowly and stood before him.

“Dance with me, Louis,” she said quietly.

Gently, he gained his feet, feeling as if he towered over her. She was suddenly so delicate, so seemingly fragile, yet he knew she was not. Still, he did not touch her. Was she smiling?

“Like this,” she said, slipping her left hand into his right, drawing it slowly to her shoulder, and holding it there. “Like the waltz but much closer, so I might feel the beating of your heart.” She slipped her right arm about his waist and leaned against his chest. “Hold me, Louis. Please.”

He raised his left hand and as his fingers touched her back, she sighed and drew him closer, and he knew what he had needed to know. That she could still love him despite what he had been, an abhorrent thing in the current age.

Louis pressed his lips to the top of her head and then leaned his cheek there, relieved. Their feet barely moved with the music, ignoring their maker’s frantic wailing and following a tender undercurrent in the harmony. Slow dancing. He smiled as he recalled the term. How very apt!

His hand crossed her smooth back, fingers trailing upward until he grasped the roundness of her shoulder. She felt snug in his arms as he pulled her back, dropping his other hand to encircle her waist. Her face turned up to meet his, eyes tear-stained and warm, and his mouth closed over her mouth, his hair tumbling forward, separating them from the world. Breathing as she breathed, loving her.

Within the veil of darkness, he opened his eyes onto hers and saw them shimmering as a rain-cleaned sky. Oh, for one brief moment, he remembered the sky, or perhaps only an image from a movie. He smiled, lips still pressed to hers. It didn’t matter where, the color was hers.

He felt her return his smile, her eyes sparkling in amusement. As their lips parted, they laughed quietly.

“Blue sky,” he admitted, raising an eyebrow slightly.

“Green grass,” she said.

“Amazing,” he whispered and she nodded her agreement.

“Nauseating, is more like it,” came Lestat’s voice.

They turned toward the armoire to see that their maker had stopped the changer. Louis drew Chérie upright and pushed the hair out of his face.

“Back so soon, Lestat?”

Lestat unfurled two fingers at him delicately. “Don’t sound so annoyed, Louis.” His boots thudded softly as he approached them, taking Chérie gently by the hand and turning her. “Spectacular, ma chère. The Dark Gift certainly agrees with you. I don’t know why I didn’t notice until now. Perhaps it was the elegant lines of the dress as Louis had you bent over backwards.” He made an impatient gesture. “No matter.”

“You are interrupting, you know.”

Their maker glanced back at Louis. “Am I? Past table silver and up to dancing already, are you?” He winked at Chérie.

“I know my table silver quite well, thank you,” she said. “Now stop being such a rascal! Louis is a marvelous dancer.”

“Rascal, is it?” Lestat raised an eyebrow. “I would have thought I’d warranted more than that by now. And as for Louis’s dancing, I’ve hardly ever had the pleasure. You may want a second opinion, ma petite.” He bent, kissing her hand and looking up at her from under his brow. “Will I do?”

Chérie smiled wickedly. “An opinion from the Provinces might be amusing,” she teased, extricating herself and wandering to stand beside Louis. “All my dances are yours, my love. What do you say? Should I hold out for Armand?”

“Armand!” Lestat spat before he could stop himself. His gaze narrowed. “Better to seek David’s opinion if not mine!”

“No, David will not arrive before tomorrow and Armand may not return before then,” Louis said, thoughtfully. “Best not to wait until the last minute. Take his offer.” He smiled broadly and kissed her cheek, whispering, “Brava, Chérie.”

“Merci,” she said brightly and stepped quickly back to Lestat. She laid both hands on his crossed arms and peered up at him, into his indignant frown. “S’il vous plaît, mon père. Dansez avec moi.” He seemed unmoved. She smiled sweetly. “S’il vous plaît, mon cher Lestat.”

Amusement crept into his scowl. “You are ruthless, ma chère.

“Would you accept anything less from the daughter of such a fine Créole father?”

Lestat, eyes alight, snapped his fingers at the changer. His lips parted, delighted when the Bach filtered through the speakers.

“Insufferable show-off!” Chérie scolded, laughing.

“Aren’t I, though?” He grinned smugly as he kissed her hand and bowed before taking her in his arms and gliding her smoothly around the room.

Louis sat and watched, smiling as she flawlessly followed their maker’s lead, picking up Lestat’s little flourishes and remembering them when the music came around again. At one turn, she glanced up and held his eye, a secret smile.

Lestat whispered to her continually, the music loud enough to block Louis’s hearing, and she would smile and laugh and whisper a response. They moved well together, all in black. Lestat’s shirt sleek and billowy, freed of the leather jacket. Her long white legs effortlessly matching her maker’s steps.

As the piece ended, he bowed to Chérie’s curtsy and guided her to Louis, placing her hand in her betrothed’s.

“Delightful, Chérie,” he said. “And you truly had never danced like this before tonight?”

She shook her head. “Not a step.”

Lestat clapped Louis on the shoulder. “Marvelous, Louis! Exquisite.” He shook his hair free and sighed deeply.

Louis smiled. “And you, Lestat? When did you last dance?”

“Like this? Mon Dieu!” Their maker splayed one hand across his chest and puzzled a moment. “Dancing had changed when I’d arisen. And before that, well,” he gestured to the air, “let’s say I wasn’t inclined toward dancing. No,” he said, sucking in his breath, “I haven’t danced like this since...Claudia.” Lestat waved a hand at the carpet and turned away from them.

Chérie’s eyes grew wide. “That was in this room? Wasn’t that buried in one of your books?”

Lestat nodded, his back to them as he retrieved the discs from the changer.

When she would have gone to Lestat, Louis held her hand and shook his head gently. But she raised a finger and freed her hand. Her heels tapped lightly as she approached her maker and gingerly laid her hands on his shoulders.

He shook his head. “Don’t, Chérie.”

“If that is your choice, Lestat,” she said softly. “But I have also read in your books how often you have yearned for such solace. You have only to turn and claim it.”

His shoulders rose and fell with his breathing.

“You passed it off, you were only making a plaything for Louis. But that’s the lie, isn’t it? You’d made three fledglings and still you hungered. To be a father.”

“Stop it, Chérie,” Lestat said.

She ignored the tension in his voice. “A human desire, but I’ve felt its power. She was a true daughter to you, the only child you’ll ever have.”

“Enough!” he snapped. “You do not know, Chérie!”

“But I do,” Louis said quietly at his side.

Lestat turned, hair tumbling into his eyes.

“I know, Lestat.” Louis reached out and gently pushed the hair away from the fierce blue-gray eyes, so determined they seemed to hold onto this anger. But his maker did not protest when Louis drew him against his shoulder, into his arms, and calmly smoothed those lustrous yellow curls. He sighed as Lestat’s arms crossed his back and clung to him. He rested his cheek against the blond head and held his maker tighter as the sobs shook him. It was a long time before Lestat could speak.

“Why, Louis?” he whispered. “How could she do that to me?”

Louis shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. I cannot conceive of anyone wishing you dead. Not then, and more so now.” Tears gathered in his eyes. “I failed you so completely,” he said, the words so low they were very nearly inaudible.

“Children rebel against their parents, Louis,” Chérie said, quietly. “Most leave it at wild clothing and harsh words. But Claudia was a killer.”

“A splendid, cunning killer,” Lestat whispered.

“A child, demanding more,” Louis said. “Regret, any human feeling, was alien to her. Lestat, your love for her was just as foreign. When I could no longer stand her presence, she knew only that whatever had held us together was gone. Nothing more. She spoke of love but it meant no more to her than words she recognized were dear to us.”

Chérie ran her hand over her maker’s shoulder. “Lestat, in this one thing you were powerless. There was no amount of love you could have lavished upon her to give her understanding.” She smiled lovingly and leaned close to him. “I could give you a lesson in genetics and human development, if you like.”

Louis felt it long before the laughter escaped Lestat’s lips.

“No,” he said, drying his eyes before facing her. “Thank you, but no.”

Chérie regarded him solemnly. “You cannot be a father, Lestat. Not really. If it were but a rule, you know you would have broken it.”

He nodded and cupped her cheek in his hand. “I know.”

She caressed his hand and kissed his palm. “But I will always love you as my father. And as my brother. And as my dearest friend and lover.” Her eyes shifted to Louis and she smiled. “Just as Louis loves you.”

Lestat glanced over his shoulder at Louis and leaned against him, peacefully, for the barest moment. The next he was backing away, wagging a finger at them both.

“You’re ruining me, you realize!” He balled both hands into fists. “I can’t believe I’m actually listening to such simpering sweetness!”

Louis laughed. “Enjoy it, Lestat! How long can it last before you find some way to endanger Western civilization again?”

Lestat came scurrying back, ignoring Louis and taking Chérie’s hand, sighing. “Thank you for the dance, ma petite. It was magnificent!” He pressed his lips quickly to her fingers. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a burning need to go pull the shell off a snail. Pour table salt over it. Watch it bubble.”

And he was gone.

Chérie leaned against Louis, both laughing quietly.

“He exhausts me!” she said.

Louis nodded. “He does have that effect.” He slid his arm around her waist. “Thank you. I have watched him agonize over Claudia dozens of times but could never comfort him until tonight.”

“It was time,” she said, giving her shoulders a shrug. “You know I have an hour with him every evening before you rise.”

“And exactly how was I supposed to know that?”

“Good point,” she admitted. “Oh, don’t look so worried! We usually just sit and watch the sunset. But sometimes he’ll just start talking. A striking color in the sky may remind him of something and he’ll go on and on about it.” She smiled. “It’s actually quite lovely to sit and listen to him ramble like that.”

Louis’s eyes receded from the room, misting. “Yes, it is.”

“Well, I’ve been documenting these little chats.” She shrugged. “For my own reference, mainly. I want to index your books so I can get all these ragged details straight. But then I noticed Claudia’s name coming up more and more. Especially after we came down with Glennie and everything.”

“Another C-sandwich,” Louis murmured.


He smiled. “It was something Daniel said. Two L’s surrounding a C, and he mentioned a filled cookie.”

Chérie nodded. “Right. I know the things. I’ll point them out sometime. Essentially, they consist of two silver-dollar-sized chocolate biscuits held together with a mixture of refined sugar and shortening.”

He made a face.

“Yes, revolting, I agree,” she said, smiling and crinkling her nose. “Even when I was mortal, I couldn’t stomach the things.”

Louis knitted his brow. “But wasn’t chocolate one of your comfort foods?”

She absently twisted the ring on her left hand. “Yes, but I was a discriminating compulsive. Delicate Swiss and Belgian chocolates. Sublime French truffles. Dutch cocoa. Not this American trash.”

He laughed without making a sound.

Her cheeks flushed and she squeezed his hand. “Yes, I was a chocolate snob, I suppose. And that’s more than you want to hear about my mortal obsessions.”

Louis shook his head playfully and kissed the tip of her nose. “Talk all you like, my love. Your mortal memories will fade far too quickly and I want to hear them all.”

Hurriedly, she backtracked. “So why did Daniel bring this up?”

“He was wondering if any rivalries had arisen between Lestat and myself.” Louis pressed his thumbs to his lips and his eyes sparkled with amusement.

“Over me?” Chérie exclaimed in disbelief. “Good Lord! Or between you and I over Lestat? Or Lestat and I over you!” She turned and tucked her warm brown hair behind one ear. “Wait. This may sound ridiculous to me--”

“As it does to me,” Louis quickly agreed.

“But is it so absurd to Lestat?” She crossed her arms. “He has more than a bit of the coven master in him.”

“Yes, he believes we are his. His children, his coven. But we have let him know we do not object to his believing so.” He tipped his head, lost in his own thoughts. “No, Chérie. I do not see any rivalries to be concerned over.”

She nodded slowly, walked to the armoire, and put a disc in the player. The satiny blending of violin, strings, and harpsichord filled the parlor. She noticed his gaze on her.

“Thinking music,” she said, shrugging.

Louis smiled. “Haydn’s Double Concerto for Violin and Harpsichord. How long have you had this?”

“Not very. I couldn’t tell Bach from Haydn from Mozart, I’m afraid. And I knew I’d better learn before Lestat brought in tutors.” Chérie let out a single laugh and shrugged. “This was the first disc I bought. Haydn and harpsichord, after all. Who could resist? Call it beginner’s luck, but I love this more than any other I’ve purchased.”

Inviting her to sit with him, he mused quietly. “My sister often played a Haydn harpsichord concerto. It was very popular, as I recall. I loved listening to her play.”

“The Harpsichord Concerto in D major?” Chérie asked.

Louis looked up, puzzled. “Yes, that is the one. How did you know this?”

Her voice was hushed. “It’s on the disc.” She shook her head and studied the carpet. “This is too weird, Louis.”

He regarded her quizzically, half-smiling as he ran his long finger over his brow. “And I thought you believed in karma.” His eyes softened as his smile widened. “What do you always tell me? Relax, Chérie! Terrible things will happen of their own accord and when they do we will confront them together. For now, we are happy and we can enjoy this time.”

She laughed, eclipsing the recorded music with her own. “And I plan to. But, Louis. Don’t you ever wonder when the other shoe is going to drop?”

“Worry about how long it can last, as Lestat keeps asking?” He shook his head. “No, not really. Time is different for me, two years but an instant. I can’t help thinking we could easily have a hundred years or more of this.”

He smiled as her eyes grew wide, at once filled with pleasure and astonishment. Time for her would remain disorienting for decades yet.

“‘To feel this much satisfaction is to burn.’” Chérie pushed her hair back over her shoulders. “I think I’m feeling a hint of what Lestat meant by that.”

Louis covered her hand with his. “Despite still being for the most part within my mortal lifetime, and possessing an admittedly dreary outlook,” he smiled, “we were happy for sixty-five years, Lestat and Claudia and I.”

“And you think you can recapture this with me?” she blurted.

He laughed aloud. “Mon Dieu, no!” So here was her secret fear. Louis regarded her seriously. “No, my love. I do not see you as a mature version of Claudia. I wish you could know just how differently I feel about you, how different it was then, that I was skilled enough to show you.” He sighed.

Her eyes seemed fixed on something that was not there. “I suppose I have no choice but to take your word.” She turned and held his gaze. “I do trust you completely, my love. But part of me wants to know.”

Louis nodded. “I understand. Similarities are unavoidable, Chérie, because Lestat and I cannot help remembering. While the three of us then were happy, both Lestat and I knew there was something wrong, that this cloud of doom hovered. Your other shoe, waiting to drop.” Louis smiled softly. “The three of us now are simply happy. And in an utterly new way. Neither Lestat nor I harbor any apprehension that I can determine. This is right.” He searched her eyes. “At least for us. I cannot speak for you, of course. I am not stuck in the middle, smeared with shortening.”

“A pleasant image.” Chérie smiled and took his hand, studying his long fingers. “Lestat wrote so vividly of the wall that fell between maker and fledgling that I was taken completely off guard by the power of the connection I felt with him.” She shook her head. “He’s inside me, you know? Feeling as I feel. And when I touch him, it’s eerier still, as if I know what he feels. Almost a primal memory of his blood shaping me, the intimacy of the act, his giving the Dark Gift. Lestat poured everything he had into me and it’s as if he fed me his very heart.” She smiled in amazement. “He is my father. Every time I feel my heartbeat, I feel him. I cannot imagine being apart from Lestat.”

Louis saw the tiny, almost embarrassed shake of her head and a smile grew on his lips. “I feel him within me as you do, more so now than ever before. Yet he and I fought this connection for centuries, as mortal father and son might, battling a mortal dependency, and I hated it.” He squeezed her hand. “I have lived apart from him, Chérie, and the isolation is smothering. I can no longer be his slave, bowing to his every whim, but I never want to be separated from Lestat again. Not now that he and I have realized we can celebrate this bond.”

Chérie nodded slowly, understanding lighting her eyes. “Yes. It doesn’t destroy who we are, does it?” She quickly kissed his hand. “Or how complete you and I are together? That’s the fear, the loss of individuality.” She laughed. “Oh, Louis! We are happy, aren’t we? All three of us, together?”

Louis laughed. “I believe so, my love.”

Sadness suddenly flooded her eyes. “It will be difficult to leave him,” she said quietly.

“Yes,” he said. “I do not look forward to that moment and will admittedly miss his company. Even so, I long to spend time alone with you.”

She was smiling as he rose. He tossed his hair back away from his face and reached for her hands. As she gave them to him, he saw her eyes on his throat, and the predatory look they all got cloud her gaze. Louis drew her to her feet and into his arms, nuzzling his cheek to hers.

“I feel it as well. Let it build, my love.” His lips trailed across her face until they found hers. “For our wedding night,” he murmured, tasting those silky lips.

“Yes,” she whispered, her fingers entangled in his hair, her body pressing to him with a passion he had known in no other lover. He lifted her from the floor, held fast in his arms, and turned her lightly before setting her back on her feet.

Louis let the shimmering chocolate of her hair, his obsession now, run through his fingers before slipping a hand into his pocket.

“The night is almost ended, Chérie, but I believe there is time for a last dance.” He withdrew the compact disc and smiled.

He interrupted the Haydn symphony that had been playing and replaced the discs. No music sounded, however, as his arms reclaimed her. She glanced at the player and back to him.

Louis closed his eyes, envisioning the player’s controls perfectly. As his lids rose, his green eyes blazed and the song, his song, began.

Chérie broke into a fit of laughter. “So! There is a little competition between you two.”

He laughed and furrowed his brow playfully. “Of course. But it is only, how do you say? A guy thing.” He gave her a quick, happy turn before settling into a slow rhythm, pulling her tight against his chest as the song wove its quiet spell.

His memory filled with the lush scents of the Quarter, the crush of brocade and lace, the warm flicker of the gaslights and he gave this vision to her. He felt her breath catch through his thick sweater.

“This is my New Orleans,” he whispered.

“Oh, Louis,” she said in quiet awe.

“This is how I feel when we walk the Quarter, even now.”

They danced slowly, their minds leading their feet over damp flagstones, under intricate wrought-iron rails, and past fragrant gardens.

The song faded and before the next could begin, the disc ejected. Chérie on his arm, he retrieved the disc and pressed the button that darkened the armoire. They circled to the harpsichord and he held the candlestick before them as they left the back parlor and walked silently along the dark hallway, wallpaper glistening in the candlelight.

She motioned for him to continue as she disappeared into his study.

Stepping into his bedroom, Louis set the candlestick on a table and began removing the pillows from atop the wide walnut chest, low against one wall. The chest was a recent addition to his rooms and its wood had the warm luster of the oil carefully rubbed into its surfaces. For all appearances, it served only as a seat from which to remove his boots. Indeed, he sat and used it for this purpose.

The interior bolts slid open and then, touching the concealed release, he lifted the heavy lid, revealing the thick lining in shimmering deep blue silk. He had turned and was opening his armoire when Chérie entered.

“Oh, don’t change,” she said. “I want to fall asleep with you smelling as you do now.”

He laughed silently. “As you wish, my love. What do you have there?” His long fingers took the stationery from her hands.

“Just a little something,” she said coyly.

Louis read the note aloud. “‘Kiss your children. Tell them you love them. And have all the wonderful dreams they wish for you.’” He smiled.

“Well, don’t you think he watches us as we sleep?” she asked.

“Oh, I have no doubt of it,” Louis said. “Do you have a pin?”

She held up a bronzed safety pin and smiled.

He helped her out of her pumps and they descended into the pillowy blueness. She pinned the note to his sweater and snuggled in against him as he pulled the lid closed. They kissed and laughed quietly until Death’s sleep held them, locked motionless in each other’s arms.

They could not hear when several minutes later the bolts again slid back and the lid lifted, dim candlelight stealing in to highlight their peaceful faces. They could not see as a delicate hand smoothed the note and a sigh escaped its owner’s lips. They could not feel when the blond head moved close over theirs, the determined lips pressing to each in turn.

Nor could they hear the quaver in their maker’s faint French accent as the lid slowly closed.

“I love you.”

Night Five

Rue Royale

Louis stormed down the long gallery, furiously glancing into rooms as he passed. His gleaming black hair flew with every wild turn of his head. Almost tearing the backdoor from its hinges, he leapt to the courtyard without a thought.

Lestat plucked a single flower from the hibiscus and turned calmly.

“Where is she, Lestat?” Louis demanded. The green in his eyes paled in his rage, his full lips pulled tight over his fanged teeth.

His maker circled him, tipping his blond head to regard him thoughtfully, drawing the blossom to his nose, feeling its petals brush his cheek. His blue-gray eyes sparkled with amusement.

“She does not answer your call?”

“Don’t play with me, not where she is concerned!” Louis snarled. “What have you done with Chérie?”

Lestat did not answer, but strolled to the iron settee, lowering himself onto it and leaning on its arm. He patted the vacant space beside him.

“Relax, Louis.”

A few long strides and Louis had stabbed a finger at his maker’s chest. Lestat covered his mouth, stifling a giggle.

“One more person,” Louis said, “If just one more person tells me to relax, I’ll rip his arms off!”

His maker glared up at him, his expression instantly serious.

“Relax,” Lestat repeated with deadly calm.

Louis roared and, whirling, planted one boot on the settee. He grabbed Lestat by the lapels of his omnipresent leather jacket and hauled him off the bench.

“Where is she!”

Shoes clattered at the top of the stairs. “Dear Lord!” David uttered, calling back over his shoulder. “Armand!”

Louis ignored the intrusion as he locked with his maker, feeling his breath on his face, the challenge in his eyes.

“Do you really want this test now?” Lestat growled, his voice low, preternatural body coiled.

There was a thud of shoeleather and David’s hands were pulling on Louis’s coat. “Louis, stop!” David commanded. More scurrying on the stairs. “Armand, help me!”

“Right now, Lestat,” Louis snarled, shrugging off David. “Tell me where she is or I’ll--”

“You’ll what?” his maker spat, grinning and writhing defiantly under Armand’s straining efforts to push him onto the settee.

Louis suddenly released one hand, balled it into a fist, and drew it quickly back, only to feel arms wrap tightly around it. He dropped Lestat, striking out to throw off the grip, when he saw Daniel hanging on for all he was worth. Louis’s fist halted in mid-air and he instantly paled. Would Daniel have survived the blow?

“She’s in the penthouse!” Daniel shouted. “She’s okay! Now stop it, will you!”

Louis glared in satisfaction at Lestat and whirled to go.

His maker’s arms were at once like a vise around his waist, pulling Louis backward into his lap as they crashed onto the iron seat.

“You can’t!” Lestat said, whooping at the effort and erupting into giggles.

Louis struggled to free himself, but the others had set upon him, pinning his arms while avoiding his bared fangs.

“You can’t,” David said, out of breath. “Not on the eve of your wedding.”

Louis collapsed in Lestat’s lap, the fight suddenly going out of him. “Merde,” he muttered, running a weary hand over his face. “Dear God!” He tipped his head back and laughed incredulously. With more than a little venom, he pinched Lestat’s arm. Hard.

The giggles abruptly ceased as his maker gave a sharp cry, arms freeing him. Louis slid out of his lap, next to him on the settee, his long legs draped inanimately across Lestat’s lap.

“Why didn’t you just tell me that?” he asked, exasperated.

“Oh, Louis! I would, had you not hurled yourself at me in such glorious fury. Forgive me, but if you had only seen your face!” He was consumed once again in a fit of laughter.

David shook his head sternly. “Really, Lestat. This is quite inexcusable. Tormenting Louis like this, when he was so obviously distraught over Chérie’s safety.”

Armand stepped to Daniel’s side and touched his cheek lightly before turning to Lestat. “Had we known this was your surprise, we would have told Louis ourselves instead of sending him to you.”

David slipped a hand into the pocket of his dark tweed coat. “And I’m certainly regretful I ever reminded you of this little tradition.” He sought Louis’s gaze. “I am sorry.”

Louis nodded wearily.

Lestat caught his breath and smoothed the heavy denim covering Louis’s legs. He rested his hands on his fledgling’s knees. “Yes, I ought to be ashamed of myself.” His lips slowly curled into a malignant smile. “But I’m not. And if you’ll excuse us, I need to consult with the bridegroom.”

Armand and David exchanged a glance and started for the stairs. But Daniel hesitated, his brow knitted as he searched Louis’s face.

“Is this okay with you?”

Louis nodded. “Yes. I believe he’s safe from me for the moment.”

Daniel grinned and followed the others up the stairs, where Armand stood holding the door for him. The auburn-haired vampire nodded to Louis before letting the door close.

Lestat stared vacantly at the fountain. “Safe, am I?” He shook his head. “I have never been safe from you.” He shrugged and sought Louis’s gaze. “I’ll deny it if you repeat this, of course, but I am sorry, Louis. I had only meant to see if you would remember this little tradition.”

“One you yourself had not remembered.”

His maker grinned. “You, even more than David, cherish these niceties and I wanted you to have the opportunity to show off.”

“Or mercilessly lord it over me when I did not remember.”

“Yes. I am a fool for it, I suppose.” Lestat studied his hands absently. “I had not accounted for your concern, however, and I hope you know that, barring some drastic and unforeseen turn in her character, I would do everything in my power to protect Chérie from harm.”

Louis swung his legs off Lestat’s lap and sat upright. “Yes, I know.” He sighed deeply. “You never set out to directly harm us. But sometimes these little dramas of yours take unanticipated twists and hurt nonetheless. Being consumed in flames in that car in San Francisco. Buried alive at the Théâtre des Vampires.”

His maker was uncommonly silent, his expression pained.

“I hold no animosity over these incidents, Lestat. There were any number of choices I could have made to avoid them. I enjoy your excitement, your passion.” Louis touched Lestat’s powerful hands. “There is one, though, that you’ve never recognized and I will speak of it.”

“I have felt every one of your hurts,” Lestat said.

Louis searched that face he knew so well, eyes lingering on the scars visible still under the unyielding, tanned flesh.

“Except one. When you came to me, mortal through the auspices of that contemptible body thief, begging for the Dark Blood, you forced me to envision your death. Your very real mortal death.” Sorrow suffused him, and from Lestat’s rapt expression he knew it was visible in his face. He willed himself not to blush. “I saw you laid out in the coffin. Not in peace, as we sleep. Not beautiful and radiant as you are now, but decayed, rotting, worm-ridden. Withered by age. Gone forever. Lost in the earth, never to greedily claw your way to the surface again.” A tear gathered and he blinked it back.

“Oh, Louis. That is not what I wanted.”

“From the story I heard that night in my little house, yes, that is what you wanted. The vampire that I was, the weakest of us all who was without vision, would never make another and yet, knowing this, you came to me for the Dark Gift. And envisioning your death, I had no choice but to accept it, embrace it as your unspoken desire. My love for you was nothing if I entrapped you, valued my loss higher than what I saw as your need. That night, I buried the Lestat who had given me joy beyond measure.”

They fell silent, watching the satiny cascade of water flowing from the fountain’s shell.

A smile slowly spread across Louis’s face.

“The vampire that I am would not make that choice, of course. I would drink deeply and without hesitation, relishing every moment of your transformation.”

Lestat laughed. “Have a bit of your own back.”

Louis’s expression hardened, incredulous. “My God, Lestat! Will you never understand? I would watch your eyes come alive. See the wonder of this dark magic fill your soul. Your joy over feeling this power again would be my joy.” He ran a long finger over his brow. “I never needed you to reveal these mysteries, only to know you saw them as well. It makes them real, and all the more precious.”

Amusement curled his maker’s lips. “So selfless.” He reached to brush back the black hair, but Louis pushed his hand away. Lestat sighed. “I cannot be this way. I do because I want to do.”

“And I would not want you any other way. I would find you as dull and uninteresting as myself.” Louis let out a sharp laugh. “What a dreary thought!”

Lestat shook his mop of blond curls. “You have never been dreary, Louis. Boring at times, I’ll admit, but that’s my failing. Always there burned a fire within you that I found intoxicating, irresistible.” His voice lowered. “Shamefully alluring.”

Louis’s laughter startled his maker. “Shame, Lestat? Like the shame you felt on that stage in San Francisco? The adoration satisfies you like nothing else. Why is it that we see this so clearly and love you all the more because of it, yet you cannot?”

He paused, listening to the din of the Quarter rising around them with the deepening of the night. The raucous sounds of that night years earlier thundered through his mind as he continued.

“I was there to see it. Mortals might not believe, but I knew what I watched, Lestat. I knew. The fear you did not feel crushed me when you trotted onto that stage. So vulnerable, so utterly naked in revealing your need, to me if to no one else. I saw when it shook you, the realization that any holy war against us was trivial next to the performance.” He shook his head in awe. “This moment comes far earlier for most of us. My God, how poignant to see you embrace that knowledge and continue! Such burning desire! For three hours you fed on their adulation as if it were blood and I was intimate with every rise and fall of your pulse.”

Lestat was sitting upright, motionless, a distant gleam in his eyes. “Vicarious thrills, Louis?”

He shrugged. “To some extent, yes, because your craving was palpable.” Louis reached out and gingerly touched his maker’s hair, the strands curling softly around his fingers, shimmering. “The far deeper ecstasy was knowing you were being pleasured, driven to rapture in the manner you most desired.”

A shudder passed through his maker and when he spoke, his voice was the barest whisper. “It mattered that you were with me, that from your arms I gained release to mount that stage. I knew you were watching. The show was for you.”

His fingers froze. “For me, Lestat?” Louis asked quietly, though his heart skipped a beat.

“There was really little chance those mortals would react any differently than they did.” Lestat gave a little laugh. “Oh, I hungered for every decibel of their innocent wailing. But you? My Louis? My precious Louis. I could feel your excitement backstage, your heart pounding louder than fifteen thousand mortals.” He shook his yellow hair and let out a contented sigh. “And all I could do was kiss you.”

Louis blushed. “I remember that kiss.”

His maker grinned. “Then I was on stage, feeling your eyes on my every move. God, how I loved it!”

Louis had known this feeling recently, when Chérie’s eyes followed him with such unconcealed affection. He nodded. “And I loved watching you. But more than that, there was almost a divine splendor in your seeming lack of fear.” Amusement filled his gaze. “Of course, this works against you more often than not. But not that night.” Wonder lighted his expression. “That night you were glorious.”

He sat quietly, the sheer presence of Lestat marvelous, the strength, beauty, and humor nearly irresistible. Louis felt the attraction as keenly as he ever had, yet he was satisfied in the company of his maker in this beautifully familiar setting. The birds of paradise with their surreal bills of vermilion and cerulean. The soothing music of the fountain. Lestat’s enormous stand of bananas. The rich perfume of the old roses he himself had planted. Warm and fuzzy, Chérie would say.

“Merciful detachment,” Lestat murmured with a little laugh and glanced at his fledgling. “Was there ever a bigger lie?”

“Never,” Louis readily agreed.

“And the fiasco of this evening? Do you forgive me?”

“Of course.” A smile played on his lips. “But you should have warned me, you old goat.”

Lestat laughed, the sound as of the peals of bells. “As you are so fond of reminding me, I am but six years older than you.” He draped his arm behind Louis, along the back of the settee. “Oh, Louis. Has simply being alive ever been easier?”

Shaking his head slowly, Louis patted his maker’s knee. “Never.” He searched Lestat’s face, smiling when the blond brows furrowed and the blue-gray eyes lighted in confusion.

“What is it, Louis?”

“Thank you,” he said simply.

Lestat’s scowl deepened, but laughter sat poised on his determined lips. “What on earth for?”

“For giving me the Dark Gift. I suddenly realized I had never thanked you for giving me this life.” He hesitated, studying his hands in his lap, his expression softening as his affection welled. “My father,” he whispered.

Lestat’s hand went to his heart. “Louis! You’ve never called me that.” He quickly shook his head. “Please don’t start now. I should weep whenever I heard it.”

“Hopelessly sentimental.”

“Like hell I am!” But Lestat laughed, shifting his arm from the settee to Louis’s shoulders. “You understand me better than anyone.”

“I tolerate you better than anyone,” Louis corrected with a wink. “It’s Chérie who understands you.”

Lestat’s eyebrows raised thoughtfully and his fingers delicately traced the lines of his lips. “Yes, she is a mystery. For one so young, she reads me remarkably well.”

“It’s not such a mystery, Lestat,” Louis said. “She had five books to draw upon and her domain was the logical. Chérie knew us long before we met.”

Murmuring his agreement, Lestat smiled. “And you’ve told her more since then, as have I.” He gave his fledgling a squeeze and rose. “I should be more cautious but she does delight so in listening.”

“She loves you, Lestat.” He smiled. “And you do love to go on and on.”

Lestat circled the little enclosed paradise before unfurling a finger. “Logic, yes. I must remember to consult our Chérie more often.”

Louis stood, hooking his thumbs casually in the pockets of his jeans. “Which reminds me. You wanted to consult me on something?”

His maker shook his head quickly and shrugged, turning his back and studying the bougainvillea. “I wanted only to apologize privately.” He wandered over to let his fingers trail through the sprays of tiny blossoms covering the Queen’s Wreath.

Louis quietly laughed. “The day will come when you can no longer maintain this veneer and it will crumble around you like old plaster.” He saw Lestat’s shoulders tense and he continued softly, slowly drawing near his maker as if he was a wild bird. “It is already peeling, mon bien-aimé. When it does, I hope I will be there, to assure you that Lestat will always be Lestat.” He could smell his maker’s hair as he stood behind him, carefully wrapping his arms around the cold leather and burying his face in the blond mass. “No outpouring of kindness can change my Lestat.”

He felt the tension flow out of his maker as Lestat leaned against him. Louis pressed his lips against the yellow hair and quietly strode to the stairs, taking them swiftly and stepping onto the long gallery. He paused after the door closed and breathed a deep sigh before seeking the quiet of his rooms.

Louis had meant to slip into his bedroom but found himself turning into his study and sliding into the chair behind the computer. He glanced at the candle on the desk and it flamed to life. He found Chérie’s notepad and, from the paragraph she had scribbled there, he extracted the necessary passwords. He scowled at himself until the video clip finally disappeared.

It was a dangerous game he was playing with Lestat. No game at all, really. He could not forget Maharet’s ominous warning that the world might change when whatever Lestat was going through culminated. It frightened him. Louis did not understand how these things would come to pass, or even how long it would take. Years, decades, didn’t matter. He knew with certainty that when it happened Lestat would need him as he had never needed another. And it might take every minute to build the trust necessary for Lestat to feel he could utterly depend upon him, even for one brief moment. Louis knew he needed to earn that friendship. There were too many times he had abandoned his maker.

He returned Chérie’s notepad to its haphazard position and selected a document labeled for his typing practice. He was prompted for a password and he typed a random-seeming set of characters. Should anyone stumble upon the document, they would certainly dismiss the password as modesty on his part.

Louis smiled. There were some strategic advantages in being a living legend. He immediately blushed.

The first and last ten pages of the file were indeed covered with innocuous sentences riddled with typographical errors. But between these sections, he kept a diary of his encounters with Lestat. They weren’t calculated, by any measure. He simply took every opportunity his maker gave him to say how he felt, what he thought, forcing himself to completely disregard how angered these revelations had made Lestat in the past. Rapidly and accurately his long fingers moved over the keyboard, setting out his thoughts. When he had finished, he scrolled to the document’s top, saved, and closed the file.

He was about to engage the screen saver when he noticed a music disc was in the drive. Louis smiled and chose the player application. He laughed when he saw Chérie had the disc set to play his song continuously. Why not? Clicking a button, the music wafted from the speakers. He navigated through a series of folders until he found their catalog of videos and selected one. Pulling the appropriate tape from the rack behind him when prompted, he slid it into the device tethered to the computer, and set the video running silently.

Louis’s eyes sparkled and he pressed a thumb to his lips. He had shot the little video out in the courtyard and it had taken a moment to train the lens on Chérie, sitting on the damp flagstones beside the fountain. As the camera moved around her, she had turned and smiled up at him. Her lips moved silently and Louis smiled, remembering the stream of endearments she’d spoken, en français. Suddenly, Glennie romped into view, disappearing below the camera’s range momentarily as she rubbed against his legs playfully. She quickly loped back into the frame and began ignominiously bathing Chérie’s face. Chérie pushed the wiry fur back from Glennie’s eyes and rubbed the big deerhound’s ears vigorously.

The camera followed as they romped. Then Mojo had joined in and both canines soon had Chérie rolling on the ground in a fit of laughter. She sat upright suddenly and stared up at the flat, nodding and speaking rapidly. She made a quick gesture, calling Mojo to her, and she promptly nuzzled into his deep, soft fur. She stuck her tongue out and quickly fell back laughing as Lestat appeared before her, crouched on one knee. He wagged a finger at her while Mojo panted happily, wriggling for her continued attention. Up flew Lestat’s hands in consternation and he pleaded with Mojo.

The blond head whirled suddenly and the camera pulled back to reveal Glennie sniffing at his jeans. Lestat lost his balance and tumbled over, grabbing Chérie as he went and rolling her away from Mojo. He went into a crouch again just as Mojo pounced on him, knocking him back down. Glennie took Mojo’s lead and they soon had Lestat, giggling uncontrollably, thoroughly bathed and groomed. Chérie rescued him, pulling her maker onto her lap and shooing away the dogs.

Lestat played for the camera, pressing a weary hand to his forehead and leaning on Chérie heavily. She rolled her eyes over his shallow performance and leapt to her feet, her maker in her arms. Lestat kicked his feet in mock-protest and pleaded with the camera for aid. Chérie raised her eyebrows lustily and hauled him out of the camera’s range.

Louis laughed and stopped the tape. He lifted the telephone and pressed the number for the penthouse. He may not be able to see her but he didn’t see any reason why they couldn’t talk. Jesse answered on the second ring.

“Hi, Louis! What was going on over there earlier? We could hear you all the way up here.”

“Vocal coach. He said my accent disappeared when I shouted so I was practicing.” He laughed. “May I speak with Chérie, please?”

“A likely story. Hang on a second and let me check.”

She dropped the phone before he could say anything more. In the background he heard the harmonies of feminine voices. Gabrielle and Jesse saying no, Chérie pleading, and a masculine voice taking her side. Maharet said yes, and Chérie was instantly on the phone.


“I miss you, my love.” Static crackled on the line. “Are you on the cordless?”

“Very definitely.” Her voice strained as he heard wood against wood and metallic clicking. “There. I’m on the terrace and for a few minutes, we’re safe.” She sighed. “God, I love you, Louis!”

“And I love you. This is torture, you realize.”

“Is that what you were screaming about earlier? They had me locked in the bathroom and put up the most God-awful visions or I would have been there. What happened?”

“Lestat wouldn’t tell me where you were. I didn’t remember this idiocy about not seeing you before the wedding and I’m afraid I became a little impatient.”

She giggled. “Impatient? Louis, it sounded like you were murdering someone.”

Louis smiled and lowered his voice seductively. “Ah, but you know I’m very quiet when I kill.”

Chérie snorted. “I can’t believe you said that!”

He laughed. “I am sorry, my love. It was an atrocious thing to say.”

“Yes, but it was funny. Now what else happened?” she asked suspiciously. “You rarely raise your voice so there must be more.”

“He told me to relax once too often and I...I...”

“Snapped? Lost it? Flipped out?”

“Yes, thank you. All of those and more. I almost hit him, Chérie. I can’t believe I was so near to hurting him.”

“Oh, Louis. What stopped you?”

“Daniel, bless his heart. He seized my hand and told me you were up there. Then when I would come to you, they swarmed over me until David reminded me of this ridiculous tradition.”

“How close did you actually come to duking notre père?

“I had him in my hands. I was completely prepared to do battle with him, and it did not matter that I knew, dear God, I knew I could hurt him.”

“You could feel that?”

Louis nodded. “Oh yes.”

“Any problems with fire?”

He was startled by the question. “No. Why do you ask?”

“Lestat wrote of being worried about it when he was angry.”

“I see. No, this power has been surprisingly easy for me to control. But then I don’t have Lestat’s temper.”

“And what of Lestat? Did he just sit there and take it?”

“For the most part, yes.” Louis furrowed his brow. “Strange, but he was uncommonly passive until Armand had ahold of him.”

Chérie sighed. “He was studying you. Gauging how strong you’d become.”

Louis groaned. “And I...fell for it.”

“Hook, line, and sinker, my love.” She laughed lightly. “Don’t feel so bad. For centuries, almost everything he’s done has been a fight. And it was probably an afterthought, simply because he had the opportunity.”

“Yes, of course. Still, a horrific way to start the evening.” Louis laughed. “And how has yours been? Did I tell you how terribly I miss you?”

Chérie laughed. “Why, yes you did but it’s good to hear again because I miss you even more.”

“Impossible!” He sighed. “You have no idea how I long to hold you in my arms. To run my fingers through your glistening hair and over every inch of your lustrous skin. To taste your silky lips--”

“Oh my,” she breathed.

“To run my tongue along the satiny curves of your neck, feeling your blood running hot beneath your--”

“Enough! Stop it please, Louis!” She laughed, but he could hear the hunger in her lush alto. “I love it, but there’s nothing to be done about it tonight. Tomorrow,” she promised.

“And tomorrow and tomorrow.”

“That’s my line,” Lestat said, stepping into the study and falling into the chair across the desk. He scowled at his fledgling. “And what are you doing on the phone?”

“My love,” Louis said into the telephone, ignoring his maker. “I seem to have been discovered. Hide the phone. Call me later.”

“I will. Take the cell phone in the top drawer and tell Lestat I said to play nice. Oh, Louis. I dread lying down to sleep without you.”

“We’ll talk before then. I love you, Chérie.”

“And I, you. Until later.”

“Yes, my love.” He hung up the telephone. Tipping the big chair, he leaned back and let his hair hang loose, his neck stretched taut.

“The loneliness is terrible,” Lestat said quietly.


The desk started ringing and Louis sat up with a start, yanking the top drawer open, and engaging the little cell phone.

“Just me,” Chérie said brightly. “For a moment I couldn’t remember the number. Now I have it on redial. Later, my love.”

Louis laughed as she hung up. He flipped the phone closed and slid it into his pocket. The joy fell slowly from his face and he looked up at his maker.


“Yes,” Lestat said kindly. “Now will you please turn off that song?”

Louis had forgotten it was playing. Clicking the player, he ejected the disc and returned it to its box, leaning against the computer.

“Just what were you doing in here, Louis?”

He gave his shoulders a shrug. “Practicing my typing, then I saw the disc in the drive.” He grinned. “And I watched a video.”

“I need to upgrade,” his maker muttered, swinging out of the chair and circling the desk. “Which one?”

“‘The Perils of Pollyanna.’”

“Again? And that’s Pauline, not Pollyanna.” Lestat tugged Louis’s sleeve and grinned. “But for you, Pollyanna fits. Play it.”

Louis gently pulled his maker onto his lap and started the video. Together they watched, Lestat giggling when Mojo knocked him down.

“No loyalty.”

Louis smiled.

“Nimble, and such strength,” Lestat said when the video showed Chérie hoisting him.

Louis reached out a long arm and clicked off the video. He tipped the chair back, holding Lestat so they wouldn’t be jarred.

“Always testing us, aren’t you?” Louis pushed the hair away from his maker’s face so he could see the corner of his eye. “Or are you testing yourself? To see what fine children you have wrought?”

“Something like that,” Lestat whispered. He shifted to sit across Louis’s lap, stretching out his jean-clad legs and leaning into the crook of his fledgling’s arm. “You tried to hurt me tonight.”

“Yes,” Louis admitted. “And you just sat there. Why?”

“I didn’t want to hurt you,” he said. “As angry as you were, any defense on my part would have forced you to act before the others arrived. My best choice was to do nothing until they could pull you off me.” He shrugged. “As strong as you are now, I would have needed to cause you great pain before I could stop you.”

Louis regarded him skeptically. “How do you know this?”

“I know,” Lestat said. “I know your body almost as well as I know my own.” He reached behind his head and drew Louis’s arm from around his shoulders. He held out his left arm. “Hold my arm, just above the wrist. Not too tightly, just enough so you can feel each of the muscles tense.” When Louis did as he asked, Lestat made a fist, squeezed it tighter, and then relaxed. He glanced at Louis.

“Yes, I can feel that.”

Lestat nodded and held open his left hand. “Good. Now give me your other hand.” He gently wrapped his fingers around Louis’s hand. “This is going to take some trust on your part, Louis. I will not hurt you, but I’m going to come very close to it. If you try to pull your hand away, you may dislocate a finger or worse.” He glanced up to ensure Louis understood. “Focus on this hand,” he patted the hand on his arm, “and try to determine when I’m straining, using more pressure. Ready?”

Louis nodded once and immediately he felt his hand crushing in his maker’s grip.

“Don’t pull away, Louis,” Lestat warned calmly. “Focus.”

He tried to ignore the growing pressure and feel any change in Lestat’s arm. There was none and the flesh was hammered between his bones. Still nothing and yet he was sure the thin bones in his fingers were close to snapping. His lips curled back as the pain increased and the muscles remained as relaxed as ever.

Suddenly the pressure ceased and he watched his maker draw his bruised hand to his lips, pressing their silken surface to each finger in turn.

“You have an enormous capacity for pain, Louis. I’m sorry I bruised you. But I need you to understand how much danger you put yourself in tonight.” Lestat’s eyes were seething as they locked onto Louis’s but there was no trace of anger in his voice. “You lost control in the face a vampire you knew was stronger than yourself. I can kill with a thought, and I have. You know this, Louis!” He took a deep breath, restoring his calm. “There are maybe a handful of us who are stronger than you now, so I don’t want you to doubt your own power. But of those whose names are known to you, only Gabrielle is unquestionably less powerful, and she is still strong enough to do you damage. I had thought Daniel was, as well, but now I’m certain he simply hides his talents with remarkable skill. He and the others have strength similar to yours, but they all have other gifts. I don’t know their degree.”

Louis furrowed his brow. Idle speculation on the powers of the others was a common enough topic, but never had it turned into a serious discussion.

“Why do you tell me this, Lestat? You have been careful never to reveal the true extent of your powers to anyone.”

Pain crossed his maker’s face. “You wound me, Louis. I tell you because I love you and I will not see you endanger yourself in ignorance. I love you! And I’m sick of only telling you that while you sleep.” Blood tears spilled down his face. “Merde!”

Louis slipped his arm back around Lestat as his maker swiped at his eyes. Lestat stared forlornly at the blood on his palm. He showed it to Louis.

“You wound me and I bleed.” He raised his hand to lick away the blood, but Louis caught his wrist, oblivious to his bruised fingers.

The deep attraction suddenly consumed him. He slowly drew Lestat’s hand to his mouth and let his tongue cover the blood stain before his full lips closed on the fleshy mound, sucking the spot clean.

A sigh escaped his maker’s lips. “Kiss me, Louis.”

Louis’s bruised hand reached for the back of Lestat’s neck and drew his face close, pausing long enough to feel the breath fall on his lips before closing his mouth on Lestat’s. His maker’s tongue lingered on his lips before slipping past and finding what it sought, lightly brushing Louis’s tongue, teasing, sliding delicately over Louis’s sharp fangs, pressing dangerously against their tips.

Louis opened his eyes to see his maker’s gaze on him. He was lost in the blue depths as he slowly closed his jaw, hesitating only an instant before piercing Lestat’s tongue. Lestat’s lips tightened briefly against his and then the taste of blood filled his mouth. Louis’s lids fell shut as he sucked from his maker’s tongue, feeling him tremble. The tiny flow of blood sent tingles shooting through Louis’s body.

The flow stopped and he ran his tongue over Lestat’s lips, caressing their silken texture. Feeling them part, inviting him into the delicious warmth, Louis breathing as his maker breathed. He found the glossy and lethal teeth, so tantalizingly sharp, and sought again the blue eyes. They sparked fiercely. Lestat penetrated the tender flesh once, twice, three times. The pain was exquisite as his maker’s eyes rolled shut and his scalding mouth closed about Louis’s tongue, the intimate pulling, the taste of his blood melding with Lestat’s. Just a taste and the flow stopped. His tongue lingered over Lestat’s lips, dampening them only to suck them dry again. And again.

Slowly, more air separated their kisses and Louis’s lips sought out the deep scars in his maker’s face, tenderly kissing every one he recognized, until his head was resting on the broad plane of Lestat’s shoulder, his maker gently kissing the slope of his neck. They held each other a long time, the steady beating of Lestat’s heart comforting.

“I love you, Louis.”

A sigh escaped Louis’s lips, the words spreading warm, like blood through his veins. “Such joy it gives me hearing those words from you, Lestat,” he whispered, letting his hand slide down until it covered his maker’s heart. “Do you feel it here?” He felt the head shake slightly.

“A little more to your left. Yes, and higher. There.”

“A tightness here?”

He felt Lestat’s tiny nod and Louis smiled, kissing his maker’s shoulder. “Yes, that is where I feel it, as well.” He raised his head and looked at the place where his hand rested, memorizing the spot. He gently kissed his maker’s sensuous lips before pushing the yellow hair away from the blue-gray eyes.

“I love you, Lestat.” His eyes briefly dropped to his hand. “I have always felt this for you.”

Lestat smiled. “I have something I’d like to do with you, Louis. Come with me to the back parlor?” He pivoted and rose, holding his hand for his fledgling.

Louis took it eagerly and followed. As Lestat pushed the doors wide, Louis was delighted to see the room awash in candlelight. He glanced at his maker to see him backing away across the room, bowing like a cavalier. Lestat turned to flick open the armoire, the smaller compartment, and extracted a compact disc.

“First, I want to dance with you, Louis. An entire dance.” Lestat pressed the master switch and fitted the disc into place, programming the song with his fingers.

“We may have a slight problem, then. Who shall lead?” Louis smiled broadly.

“Not that kind of dance.” He was halfway to Louis when the music rose, Age of Innocence, Lestat’s ballad. “Ignore that I was so full of shit when I wrote this,” he said, smiling, as he wrapped an arm around Louis and took his hand.

Louis laughed aloud and held him close as they slowly turned to the music, cheeks pressed together. “I was always touched that you went with the harpsichord on this song,” he said quietly, feeling his maker smile in return.

And Lestat began singing softly in his ear. Only for him.

Louis’s lids fell closed as he listened, breathlessly, to his maker’s tenor fill his mind.

“I need to write new lyrics for this, really,” Lestat whispered during one of the changes. He continued when the recording did, with the old words. And as the last phrase faded, he kissed Louis quickly on the cheek and pulled away enough to peer into his dark green eyes.

“Do you see me now, Louis?”


“Rather crude, I suppose,” Lestat said. “But it was the only way I could call you so you would hear me, so you would hear my voice.” He searched Louis’s rapt gaze. “And do you know what you see?”


Lestat watched him, waiting.

“You are not yet ready to know what I see. For now I can only say that I see love, and trust that to your interpretation.” Louis smiled softly and touched his maker’s face. “Do not be frightened. I will do everything in my power to protect you from harm. As will Chérie. And together we three are more powerful than anything.”

Lestat laughed. “Impossible fledglings!” But there was no comprehension in his face.

“Yes, now what is it you wanted to do? Armand saw my hunger and wanted me to go with him tonight.”

His maker waved his hand at the room. “You’re fasting and he has already gone.” He turned and strode to the armoire, removing his disc and replacing it with another.

Louis grinned when Haydn’s Double Concerto for Violin and Harpsichord played. “You know about this?”

Lestat nodded and crossed toward the harpsichord, beckoning him to follow. “For quite some time.”

“One of those things you and Chérie discuss while watching sunsets?” Louis raised an eyebrow.

His maker grinned and punched him playfully on the arm. “You’re jealous!”

“Only a little.”

Lestat invited him to sit at the instrument and, as he did so, Louis noticed a violin case beyond the row of candles. He glanced up at his maker.

“Tell me you’re kidding! When did you get that?”

“Recently. I haven’t had the heart to pick one up since Akasha destroyed Nicki’s, but when Chérie confided her love for this piece, I knew I must.”

Louis’s eyes grew wide. “It’s not a duet, Lestat.”

“Well, let’s try it and see how it sounds. Come on! I’ll be the frontman, so all you need do is sit quietly and play. No performing.”

“This is worse than all that practicing with the ring,” Louis grumbled.

Lestat’s mouth fell open. “That went off without a hitch! What are you talking about? And you won’t have any lines with this, if that makes you feel any better. So lighten up!”

Louis glared at him. “That sounds vaguely like ‘relax.’”

“Get over it, Louis. Just warm up, will you!”

Annoyed, Louis’s fingers moved over the keys, his right hand haltingly, repeating scales and then varying them. He was already picking out portions of the second movement when Lestat started tuning the violin.

“Not exactly a Strad, but it will do,” Lestat said, shaking his hair out and tossing it back from his face. “Let’s play.”

The music halted and the first movement restarted.

“Allegro moderato,” Lestat said, listening to the opening. “We’ll need to improvise over the strings. We’ll ignore it for now and concentrate on the featured instruments.”

And for the first hour, they went back and forth over the piece, until they had a rough feel for the work. The allegro moderato was easily the showcase, but they chose the second movement, the largo, because the play between violin and harpsichord was far greater. And for its sparing use of strings.

For the second hour, they focused on the second movement and had played two flawless passes by the time Louis rose from the harpsichord.

“How is your hand, Louis?” Lestat asked as he closed the case on the violin.

He made a fist and flexed the fingers of his right hand. “A little stiff, but the bruising is gone.” He started extinguishing the candles.

“I am sorry about that,” Lestat said. “I hadn’t counted on you holding out that long.” He walked to the armoire and turned off the system before joining Louis at the door.

Together they strolled down the long gallery.

“With all the arrivals at the penthouse, will Armand and Daniel remain there?”

Lestat shook his head. “They moved over this evening, into my rooms. David’s rooms are as he left them and I’ve set up something for Marius under the rafters with me. Santino insisted on making his own arrangements.” He grinned. “I would not want to be mortal and walking Lafayette Cemetery tonight.”

“And Khayman?”

“Staying with Mekare, for some reason.” Lestat shrugged.

They stepped into the front parlor to find David and Marius chatting amiably. Both vampires rose in Louis’s honor and he returned their kindness with a bow.

Marius promptly had Lestat in hand. “You are looking splendid, my boy. I understand you had a somewhat close shave this evening.”

Louis ignored his maker’s giggling. “I’m afraid that was my error entirely. My anxiety over these whole proceedings got the better of me and I reacted badly. Lestat has generously forgiven me.” He bowed to his maker, which set him off even more. Louis smiled.

Marius shook his head. “Eloquent as always, Louis. By the by, I did a little checking and this is indeed a unique occasion. All references I could find to vampire weddings turned out to be simple, ritualistic sharing of blood.”

“Chérie will be pleased to learn this. And do recover your seats. You’ll excuse me, but I’ve been sitting for two hours and I cannot sit a moment longer.”

“Of course,” David said, returning to the divan. He waited until Marius was seated before sitting himself. “Now tell us. What was that piece you were playing? We heard it as we passed the parlor door and it was lovely.”

Lestat had recovered enough to speak. “It’s an obscure Haydn piece, a favorite of Chérie’s. The Concerto in F major for Violin, Harpsichord, and Strings.” He lowered himself beside David.

“A concerto? Really?” David’s brow furrowed. “It works rather well as a duet.”

“Yes, doesn’t it?” Lestat grinned at Louis, leaning against the marble mantelpiece. “It was necessary to murder the string section, unfortunately, but it holds its own without them. And we are doing only the one movement.”

Marius smiled. “A surprise, then? For Chérie?”

Lestat nodded. “Yes, we thought she would enjoy it.”

“Lestat is again being generous,” Louis interjected. “This was entirely his idea.”

“That may be, Louis, but I certainly could not play both parts. You mustn’t be so modest.”

“You’re playing the violin?” Marius asked.

Lestat shrugged. “I know the instrument. Two hundred years made almost no difference. And Louis has a decided affinity for the harpsichord.”

The bell rang.

“Get that, will you, Louis,” Lestat said.

Louis crossed his arms. “I’m fairly certain greeting guests falls within the realm of the best man.”

Lestat hauled himself to his feet and strode to the French windows. “I’ll take the shortcut,” he growled, and dropped over the balcony.

“Bravo, Louis!” David said. “Keep him in line.”

Louis laughed and took a chair beside Marius. “That has been exceedingly easy in recent years.” He glanced at Marius. “Compared to years past, of course.”

“Well, it seems as if he will be starting the next century in far better shape than he did this one,” Marius said.

“Indeed. And I don’t know about you, Marius, but I could do with a hundred years of this,” Louis said. “For the past two years, he has been a delight.” He stroked his brow absently. “I do worry what he’ll do once Chérie and I are off on our honeymoon.”

David nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should stay close for a while. Has he revealed his plans for your wedding trip?”

Louis smiled. “No. That is the one detail he has yet to divulge. Chérie has never been out of the country, so it will be interesting regardless of where we end up.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Lestat said, striding into the room and standing aside for Eric to pass.

Louis rose and warmly embraced the brown-eyed vampire. “I thought that was your voice I heard on the telephone. Please,” he indicated the divan. “Be seated and tell me how Chérie is faring.”

Eric sat and leaned forward, resting his arms across his knees. “I carry a message. They found the phone, I’m afraid, so Chérie may not be able to call. Don’t be disheartened, however. They are not impassable.” He smiled and his expression filled with warmth. “Chérie bade me, ‘Tell him I love him.’” He glanced up at Lestat, hovering over Louis. “And for you, she also gave me a message, for she feared Louis would not pass it along. ‘Play nice!’ she has commanded.”

Lestat grinned mischievously. “I always play nice.” He laid a hand on Louis’s shoulder and leaned close to his fledgling. “Don’t I, mon petit?

Louis covered his maker’s hand with his. “Mais oui, mon père.” He smiled as he felt Lestat tense.

“Cheap shot, Louis,” Lestat said softly, straightening but leaving his hand in Louis’s grasp.

Eric’s eyes twinkled. “I see you two have recovered from earlier events.” He settled back on the divan. “Chérie will be relieved.”

Lestat squeezed Louis’s shoulder. “Before Louis takes all responsibility onto himself again, I’m afraid I must admit I goaded him mercilessly.”

“Still, I should not have lost my temper.” Louis turned his attention back to Eric. “They have not kept Chérie locked up all night, I hope.”

Eric shook his head. “No, but they have been busy up there.” He smiled. “I’d forgotten the chorus so many feminine voices could raise.”

Louis smiled and would have asked another question, but David interceded.

“Our dear Louis should not be privy to their activities, I fear.” David nodded to Marius. “We were just discussing an interesting prospect. With the work I’ve been doing on Maharet’s Great Family, I began to wonder if there might not be lurking another great family among our kind.”

“Yes,” Marius said, scooting back in his chair. “For those of us,” he gestured to Eric, “with a thousand years or more, this might prove impossible. Far too many records have been destroyed since we were mortal. Even for Amadeo and Santino, this may be difficult.”

David nodded. “I know with certainty that I have fathered no children.”

“Nor I,” Louis said, warming to the subject and sensing immediately where it would lead. “My mortal liaisons were in the main restricted to the plantations and I was in a position that I could not be unaware of any resultant children. They would necessarily have been noted in the ledgers.” He smiled when David paled at his candor.

David hurriedly concealed his shock. “I forget how utterly infantile I am in this company. My apologies, Louis.”

Louis waved it away. “A completely valid reaction, David. You lived in relatively fortunate times. The topic was fresh in my mind, at any rate.” He felt Lestat’s hand slide off his shoulder. “Now, Chérie has no children, I know.” He leaned forward. “Daniel is a possibility, of course, but that is greatly lessened in the face of modern contraceptives.”

“Yes, I suppose it would,” Marius agreed. “And that leaves us to the House de Lioncourt, does it not? Our dear Marquise, of course, had many children.”

Lestat had wandered to sit before the spinet. He slowly raised the cover from the keys. His fingers gently touched the ivory slats, stroking them lovingly and they sighed in ecstasy under his ministrations, giving up their music to him.

Louis watched awestruck. His maker’s every motion seemed lost in time, forever in their cycle of unfurling and curling. Lestat’s gaze was clouded as he’d never witnessed, sparkling violet and gray and blue, the precious blue, fixed on the candleflame dancing, flickering atop the piano.

“All dead,” Lestat said softly. “Five, as children. Only myself and two elder brothers reached maturity.” An amber light crept into his gaze, and he let out a laugh. “Maturity.” He gently tore his eyes from the flame and cast them upon his fingers moving steadily over the keys. His lids closed and his lips parted as the music grew.

“And your brothers?” Eric said, his voice strangely like the fledgling melody rising from the instrument.

Lestat’s head swiveled slowly atop his shoulders. “Dead, murdered by the peasants and tenants, come to steal the rusting artifacts that littered my father’s house.” He drew his fingers away from the keys, letting them fall into his lap. A great sigh welled within him and he turned on the bench. “And their children, all dead. Only my father escaped the Terror alive, to a filthy little house in the Rue Dumaine, which is were I found him.”

David nodded. “All in your books, of course. But is there a chance they--”

“Sired bastards?” Lestat said, cutting him off before David need sully himself with the words. Lestat grinned malignantly. “No. I’m afraid ravishing the peasant girls and the merchant’s daughters was my domain alone. And good luck finding any records of that!”

David shook his head. “Your sense of history truly is abysmal, isn’t it? I mean no offense by this, of course. You’ve said so yourself. Despite the Revolution, ties to the aristocracy remained highly prized. The records may have been hidden, quite literally buried, but they were kept. If your claim of angry fathers at the gate proves fruitful, you may have progeny yet walking the earth.”

“A great dynasty of bastards.” Lestat shook his head and would have laughed, but Louis quickly interrupted.

“Lestat,” he said quietly. “You want to know this.”

His maker sighed. “Of course. My sensible Louis.” He regarded his other fledgling kindly. “David, forgive my fleeting cynicism. Louis is correct, I do want to know, even if there is only the remotest chance.”

Marius smiled. “Remembrance of the times, my boy. These things were once strong enough to make you seek solace in the earth, after all.”

Lestat nodded. “Yes, they were.” He smiled as a puzzled expression crossed his face. “Now, what was I playing?”

“Something new, I believe,” Louis said. “It was like nothing I’ve heard.”

Annoyance wrinkled Lestat’s brow. “Composing on the fly again. Infuriating. I shall never remember it now. Was it any good, Louis?”

“Intimate. Like a seduction.” Louis smiled, amused. “Don’t look so shattered, Lestat. I’ll recognize it if I hear it again and then you shall write it down. Nothing is ever lost that cannot be found.”

“Very true, Louis. But I’m afraid I must take my leave of you all.” Eric rose slowly and Louis hurriedly followed suit. “It is getting late and I suspect Chérie will be awaiting word that all is well.” He laughed brightly.

“Allow me to walk you out, Eric,” Louis offered.

“Of course,” he said and fixed his eyes on Lestat. “Thank you for welcoming me. Your home is beautiful.”

“More so when it is shared.” Lestat rose and nodded his acknowledgment. “Return any time you like.”

Louis led the brown-eyed vampire out of the parlor and they walked slowly down the long hallway, Eric reaching out briefly to trail a finger over a gold stripe in the wallpaper.

“The changes in him are growing,” he said quietly.

Louis nodded. “Startlingly so at times.” As they descended the stairs, he related his maker’s earlier outburst of affection. Louis paused by the fountain. “And I have never seen him as he was just now at the piano.”

“It sounds as if your confrontation this evening may have frightened him,” Eric said quietly. “He fears he may lose you.”

Louis shook his head. “That is nothing new. He has always been possessive of me.”

Eric smiled. “A very good observation. But in the past, it was perhaps more a matter of greed, though that also is fear-based.” He tipped his head thoughtfully. “On the other hand, Lestat is extraordinarily powerful. He may be aware of a threat we cannot yet feel. Heed his warnings, to be safe.”

“And if the threat is only the changes he is undergoing?”

“Then you are already doing what you can.”

They continued to the gate, Louis holding it open with his boot as Eric embraced him.

“Don’t be so frightened, Louis. This could always turn out to be nothing. But our concern is that Lestat has never done anything small. ‘In a big way’ seems to apply to all he does.”

Louis nodded and smiled. “Now, will you carry something to Chérie for me?”

Eric’s eyes went wide. “I cannot believe I forgot!” He kissed Louis’s cheek. “From Chérie, though I suspect I am a poor substitute.”

“Not at all,” Louis said politely as he took his handkerchief from his pocket, “LPL” embroidered delicately in one corner. He placed a finger to one fanged tooth and punctured the flesh, quickly daubing it to the monogram. When the crimson stain ceased spreading, he carefully folded the handkerchief and handed it to Eric. “Please tell her I meant every word I said and that I will call.”

“My pleasure,” Eric said, stepping through the gate.

“Thank you,” Louis said as Eric walked toward the river.

“What was that about?” Armand asked, his voice close.

Louis jumped and whirled, frowning at the auburn-haired vampire smiling innocently up at him. “Some day I may strangle you just to watch the colors change in your face, my friend.”

Armand grinned impishly in the face of the empty threat. “You never could hear me creep up on you, could you?”

“Never,” Louis admitted.

Daniel came trotting up silently. He grinned as he slipped an arm over Armand’s shoulder. “So? Did it work?”

“Like a charm, little one,” Armand said, kissing his fledgling. “Thank you for indulging me. It was too sweet to resist.”

Louis stepped back, holding the gate wider so they might enter. As he followed them, their heads bent close together in quiet conversation, Louis smiled, touched by their shared affection, the way Daniel reached behind his back to catch Armand’s hand and draw it around his waist.

When they neared the stairs, Daniel paused and ran his hand down Armand’s cheek before turning and climbing to the flat.

Armand gestured for Louis to join him on the settee, and together they sat.

“I wished to thank you, Louis,” Armand said. “You told me the truth last night.”

Louis knitted his brow and smiled. “And which truth was that, my friend?”

“You will make this difficult for me, won’t you?”

“Let me know if there is any way I can make it more so.” Louis laughed silently.

Armand smiled. “Yes, this indomitable spirit. That is what I see in both you and my Daniel. It is most becoming.”

Louis leaned an arm on the back of the settee and regarded Armand across it. “So, my friend, are you saying you enjoy the freedom from his dependency or the heightened challenge?”

The enormous brown eyes grew cold. “Don’t push me too far, Louis. And you know my name! I think I shall scream if you do not use it.”

“Go ahead. Scream,” Louis teased. “I think I should like that.”

“You mock me, Louis?”

Louis sighed and searched his face. “Armand, my dear friend. No, I do not mock you. I can be this at ease with no one but you. We have put each other through so much pain, what else can we do but laugh? We have survived, after all, where others have not.” He smiled when the brown eyes softened. “I am overjoyed to see you and Daniel so happy with each other’s company. For whichever reason pleases you, Armand.”

Armand shook his head in wonder. “I think I shall never understand you, Louis.”

“That is because you are the master of pretense, Armand, and I have none.” Louis shrugged. “I can only speak with you of what I know to be true. And I don’t believe you want to truly understand me. Where would be the fun in that?”

Armand laughed, and the music of it made Louis smile.

“Are you planning on going through with this tomorrow, Louis? Marry this fledgling of Lestat’s?”

Louis’s expression blanked. “You know her name, Armand.”

Armand raised a hand. “I meant no disrespect, Louis. But don’t you worry that this ceremony borders on blasphemy?”

Louis grinned despite himself. “I was hoping it would be you, my friend, who finally raised this question. I couldn’t be more pleased.” Louis touched the back of his hand to Armand’s cheek.

“I do not understand your excitement.”

“Armand, I struggled with this very question for many months and if my conclusions are wrong, you more than any other could show me my error.”

“Do you wish to be persuaded?”

Louis shook his head. “Not in the least. I love Chérie with everything that I am, or ever was, or ever will be. I would never be separated from her and the ceremony is only an indulgence to our human nature, really. A way for us to declare our love openly.” He smiled. “God does not need this ceremony. He already knows.”

Armand considered him seriously. “So now you believe there is a God, Louis? Did Lestat’s story convince you of this?”

Louis shook his head. “No, but he believed what he saw to such a degree that my old questions filled me whenever he came near. I told him I believed him and, truly, I wanted to believe every word of it. But Lestat could see the questioning in my eyes, I think, and this seemed to sadden him further.” He shrugged. “That’s one of the reasons I went back to California. I could no longer stand seeing him that way. Armand, I knew he was about to crawl underground again and I couldn’t bear the thought of it.”

Armand nodded. “I know this despair.”

“Yes, but I hated that I ran, that all I could think to do was leave him. It was all the more evidence that I was damned and evil because I abandoned this vampire I claimed to love at the hour he was so obviously in need.”

“So you returned to your home in San Francisco?”

“It is my home,” Louis admitted, smiling. “Daniel knows where it is, of course, and you are welcome any time, though I am rarely there now.” He sighed. “I love San Francisco. Still very much a frontier city and, like New Orleans, the many cultures that settled there have given character to her face.” Louis smiled. “After months walking her streets, I started venturing out along the Bay. I had a passing interest in computers by that time, so I went to the Silicon Valley.”

“And that is where you met Chérie.” Armand smiled. “Love at first sight.”

Louis laughed. “I suppose so. In retrospect, I’ve never known any other kind.” He touched Armand’s shoulder. “The odd thing is that Chérie lives in the type of neighborhood I usually avoid, an area where I might choose to live but never hunt. Of course, it was early yet when I chanced upon her and I wasn’t truly hunting.” He stroked his brow absently. “I didn’t know what drew me down her street, though.”

“Fate, the hand of God, destiny,” Armand offered. “Whatever you choose to call it, it was fortunate for you, was it not?”

“Yes, naming it is not so important, is it, my friend?”

Armand shook his head. “Your actions once sent Daniel to New Orleans and to me. Lestat’s action pushed you to California and Chérie.” He laughed quietly. “And consider where we would all be if you had never spoken with Daniel.”

Louis laughed. “I tried that once. I do not recommend it, Armand.” He crossed his long legs. “The point is that I knew I was fortunate to find Chérie, that something had led me to her, and it turned out fortunate for Lestat as well. In her I saw goodness, which to me ultimately is God. Not the Church, as I had mistakenly supposed so many years ago. And if Chérie was good and she loved me, and love was good--”

“Enough!” Armand commanded, laughing. “I am nearly convinced already.” He seemed entranced with the fountain for a long moment. “You still do not believe in the Church, Louis.”

He shook his head and then leaned against his hand. “Rome no longer rules as it once did, my friend.” He smiled when a frown darkened Armand’s brow. “While its members love the current pontiff, they do not accept blindly the edicts Rome passes down. They are weighed and their value judged by the individual.” He shrugged. “At least in America. And the world becomes more like America every year.”

“How do you know this, Louis?”

“From taking instruction. Some of what the priest spoke of was quite shocking, to my ears but not to Chérie’s. She did not see God in the Church but in its members, in the human heart of the Church.” Louis ran a finger over his brow. “I read the thoughts of the priest and this too is what he believes, as do most of the mortals I observed wandering into Mass here and in California.” He sighed. “There are fanatics as there always are but they are far fewer in number. Not believing in the Church is commonplace. There is no damnation in this. The focus has shifted to finding love for the stranger sitting at your side, and this seemed to coincide with Lestat’s tale in some way.”

“Not damned. Yes, this has always been difficult for you to accept.” His soft brown eyes became thoughtful. “Of course, I heard you that night you cried out for Lestat. It broke my heart, Louis, waking me for an instant from sleep.”

“You had already arisen?”

Armand shook his head. “I didn’t go deep, as Lestat did. There was no need to lose touch with the world. I only lay in the earth until the pain was tolerable. I could not risk discovery, not even by our own kind, until my flesh appeared unharmed. The torment was too great to conceal at the beginning.”

Louis pressed his lips together firmly, the memory of his friend’s agony unforgettable.

“Unforgettable, yes,” Armand said, reading his thoughts. “But I’d known that agony before and knew I’d survive it again. You did not survive your pain. You could not even feel the agony in your own call for help.” He shook his head sadly and continued. “It broke every one of our hearts, Louis. You could feel it echo throughout the day. So I believe Lestat when he said he slept badly. We all did.” His smile was fleeting. “But I knew something momentous had come to pass. You had never cried out like that.” The auburn-haired vampire sighed slowly and studied his friend.

Louis furrowed his brow. “What is it, Armand?”

“As I said, I’m nearly convinced. I have but one question for you. How can it not be blasphemy to be married in the Church when you are both unrepentant killers?”

Louis smiled. “You should have been sitting with me in the confessional, my friend. You would have enjoyed it, I think. Lestat certainly did, leaning against the door so I could not flee. Seven hours I was in there, for each of five consecutive nights, recounting every sin since I last confessed. Two hundred years’ worth, Armand! Including killing a priest in that very building, no more than twenty feet from where I was kneeling.” He laughed. “And I needed to speak very quickly to be free of that booth in only five nights. But I received absolution, Maharet ensured the priest forgot everything except that I had confessed, and I have not committed a mortal sin since. The worst was probably my outburst this evening and, thanks in part to you, I did not consummate my wrath.”

Armand was strangely quiet. “So that’s why Lestat said you were fasting. Chérie, as well?”

“Yes, though she was in the confessional for only a few minutes.” Louis sighed. “So, we are both baptized Catholics, abiding by the traditions of the Church, and coming forward in the spirit of Christ’s teachings. Technically speaking, this service is not blasphemy.”

“I would agree with you, Louis. But what of taking Communion? You cannot exactly consume the Host.”

Louis nodded. “Yes, I wondered what the point could be of going through instruction and then Confession when we could not take Communion, but Lestat assures me he has found a way that is acceptable to the Church. I suppose we shall see tomorrow.” He rose from the settee. “But dawn approaches, my friend.”

Armand stood beside him and allowed Louis’s embrace.

“I wish to thank you for agreeing to stand up with me, Armand, even if you are skeptical of the entire affair. Apart from Lestat, you are my oldest friend and it means a great deal to me to have you there.”

“You know you have Daniel to thank for convincing me not to decline.” Armand smiled. “But as it turns out, I am glad of it. Why should you and Chérie be excluded simply because you are vampires?”

Louis laughed. “Most would believe that alone is reason enough for exclusion. Come, Armand. I wish to bid everyone a good night before retiring.”

They mounted the stairs and walked together to the front parlor. Marius and David stood, with Lestat and Daniel following suit.

Louis shook his head wearily. “I will be glad when this is over so you will all stop doing that.”

Lestat grinned and glanced at Daniel. And they promptly started applauding. Armand laughed and joined in when Louis blushed, as did David and Marius.

“Merde,” Louis muttered and, as their laughter quieted, he glared at Lestat. “Why do you relish doing this to me?”

His maker grinned malevolently and came to lay a hand on his fledgling’s shoulder. “I enjoy it. Very little else in this life gives me as much pleasure.”

Louis sighed. “Well, as enjoyable as this might be, I must take my leave for the hour is late. Good night.” He gave them a dignified bow and turned to go, though he hooked an arm around Lestat and drew him out onto the gallery with him.

“What is it, Louis?” his maker asked as they walked toward Louis’s rooms.

“I have a favor to ask of you.”

Lestat gave a wave of his hand. “So ask it. You know I can deny you nothing. The whole world knows this!” His eyes grew wide and his voice hushed. “Mon Dieu! Are you trembling?”

“It’s a little delicate.”

“Just ask me, Louis.”

He stared at the dark carpet as they walked. “I haven’t slept alone in two years, Lestat. And we haven’t, I mean, there’s...oh, merde!” He again flushed and ventured a glance at his maker.

Lestat smiled kindly, his hand to his breast. “You want me to sleep with you tonight?”

Louis met his gaze. “We have not done so since the very first night and that was such a horrific experience.”

“Horrific for you, perhaps,” Lestat corrected. “To have you quivering atop me, and then to lie there for nearly a half-hour with your dead weight pressed against me? No, Louis, horrific is not the word that springs to mind.”

“Then suffice it to say I would prefer to have a fonder memory of lying with you. And I don’t know when the opportunity will again present itself.”

Lestat pushed the hair away from Louis’s face. “Such gifts you give me. How soon before you sleep?”

Louis closed his eyes momentarily, relaxing. “Perhaps thirty minutes. And I promised to call Chérie.”

“I’ll be there,” Lestat said, turning and striding back toward the front parlor.

“Lestat!” Louis hissed.

“Louis!” his maker said, mocking his tone. “Don’t worry! I’ll be discreet.” He held a finger across his lips.

Louis groaned and strode to his bedroom. But he smiled as he dropped the cell phone on the bed and quickly changed into a creamy silk shirt and pleated black linen slacks. He removed the pillows from his chest and opened its heavy lid.

He hopped up onto the bed, grinning, and flipped open the phone. He quickly dialed the penthouse.

Maharet answered. “Hello, Louis! We were expecting your call. Chérie is already lying down. Let me take the telephone to her.”

“Thank you. Has everything been well there tonight?”

Static rose on the phone. “Yes, very well. We had an enjoyable evening.”

He heard suppressed giggles in the background. “I can only imagine. I trust Eric has spoken with you?”

“Not yet, I’m afraid. We won’t retire for a while yet, so we will talk then. All right, here’s Chérie. No more than a minute, please.”

“Oui, madame,” he said, laughing. There was much fumbling over the phone.


“This is devastating, Chérie.”

“I miss you, too, my love. Eric gave me your handkerchief. Thank you!” She giggled. “I don’t know whether to sleep with it next to my heart or to suck it dry.”

He laughed. “The latter, I believe, might be more fun.”

“My thinking, exactly. Oh, Louis. How ever am I going to make it through the day without you beside me?”

“Steal a pillow from one of the beds. Steal two!”

She laughed. “A vastly inferior substitute, I fear. But it will have to do, I suppose.”

“I love you, Chérie.”

“And I love you right back, so there.”

“So I’m stuck with you, am I?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Thank God!” He laughed. “Good night, my love. Until tomorrow.”

“And tomorrow and tomorrow. Good night, Louis.”

He waited until the dialtone sounded hollowly in his ear before turning off the phone and slowly snapping it shut. He hefted the black plastic instrument in his hand several times, contemplating its destruction.

“Don’t bother,” his maker said, quietly closing the French doors. He stepped to the bed and sat next to Louis. “I’ve smashed a dozen of the ghastly things and it has never given me an ounce of satisfaction.” He fell over backwards and lay staring up at the canopy. “Now I know where I can lay my hands on a copy of your book, though I’ve sworn this is the last copy I’ll ever buy. There is a certain satisfaction in ripping it to shreds, however, so I wouldn’t mind breaking that vow.” He grinned up at Louis as his fledgling stretched out beside him, propped on one elbow.

Louis laughed quietly. “You know, there are times when you are such a boy, Lestat. My God! You actually look twenty and fresh off the farm right now.”

“You say the sweetest things, Louis. Merci. Merci beaucoup. Nice shirt, by the way.” He ran his hand over the silk.

“Thank you. But I’m partial to yours.” His maker had changed from white tee-shirt and jeans into a black satin shirt and black denim.

“We could swap shirts,” Lestat suggested.

Louis shook his head. “I wouldn’t like it nearly as much without you in it.”

“Oh, I am going to vomit!” His maker laughed.

“Well, do it now if you’re going to, because I need to sleep,” Louis said, rising and pulling off his maker’s boots.

Lestat sprang from the bed and stood waiting until Louis had lain down before stepping inside the big chest and nestling in beside his fledgling. His maker stayed propped on one elbow as Louis adjusted around his mass, the long arms encircling Lestat’s waist and pulling him close.

Louis smiled, lifting his head as his maker slid an arm around his neck. The mop of blond hair tickled his face as Lestat tenderly kissed him before settling into the deep blue silk. It was a snug fit, Lestat being much larger physically than Chérie and more muscular than Louis, though they were far less cramped than on the night he was Born to Darkness, wedged as they had been into a narrow, tapered coffin. His maker’s powerful body practically covered his, one leg drawing up over him before sliding down between his own.

“You were so terrified that first night,” Lestat said quietly. “I feared you’d bolt rather than lie down.”

“Yes, I considered it,” Louis said. “But you wanted me to lay with you. That little oversight was part of your plan.”

Lestat laughed, not bothering to deny the accusation. “When did you figure it out?” he asked, curious.

“Two years ago, the moment you pointed out I hadn’t provided for Chérie but that you had.” He touched his maker’s silken lips, enjoying their coolness when they pressed against his fingers. “You had plenty of time to prepare for me.”

“I had time, yes.” Lestat shook his head, furrowing his brow. “I never slept with my other fledglings on their first night. Perhaps that’s why our bond is different.”

“Perhaps.” Louis watched as regret clouded his maker’s face momentarily. He sighed. “And I stole your chance to do so again with Chérie.”

Lestat regarded him with wonder. “You always seem to know these things.” His fingers stroked Louis’s cheek. “Yes, I would have liked that, but no, she was for you, Louis.” He laughed quietly. “Besides, she slept with me her second night. Did she tell you that?”

“Yes,” he said. “But she never revealed where you took her.”

“Carmel Valley. I told you we wouldn’t go far. I showed her how to fashion a lair in the earth and we slept there that night.”

Louis’s smile was puzzled. “You still have that house?”

“Of course. Have you ever known me to give up a property?” Lestat smiled when his fledgling laughed silently. “I could no more give up that house than I could this one.” He shrugged his shoulder a little too casually.

Akasha or their reunion? Louis wondered idly a moment before pushing the thought away. His learning upon awakening of Lestat’s abduction, from Khayman, now the oldest living vampire, still sent him into deep contemplation. Certainly not something to sleep on. And he had remembered one property Lestat had relinquished. His maker’s laugh startled him, however, before he could say anything.

“I still want to shake you when you do that,” Lestat said.

Alors, thank you for showing more restraint now.” Louis grinned. “That’s the problem with men of action. They can’t stand the thought of missing out on anything, however mundane.”

Lestat intertwined his fingers with Louis’s. “I suppose not, though I’ve only rarely found your musings ordinary.” He closed his eyes briefly and then he sighed. “We’re the same, and yet we’ve changed.” A little disbelieving shake of his head. “You know, we were both reborn with Chérie.”

“Of course, I know,” Louis said softly. “I was glad to see you come alive again.” He freed his hand and pushed the yellow hair away from Lestat’s face, studying the blue-gray eyes, the determined smile barely curling those sensual lips. The mirth that lay constantly in wait, the smile that never completely faded. “Such beauty, the happiness in your face, the goodness....” Louis let his voice trail off before saying too much. “This is as I had always hoped it could be between us, Lestat,” he whispered. “Thank you for tonight.”

His maker gave a tiny nod. “I do wish I had your gift for expression. ‘Sublime friendship.’ Yes, that’s how you said it, so profoundly on Daniel’s tapes.” Lestat pressed his head against his fledgling’s. “The same, yet different.”

Louis smiled as his maker snuggled in closer. But he could feel the stillness creeping up on him and he pulled the heavy lid shut.

“So soft,” Lestat whispered. “I’d forgotten how soft silk is to lie upon. Why always blue, Louis?”

“Crisp clean air, deep waters, your eyes.” The bolts all slid into place. “I love you, Lestat.” His lids fell closed.

Lestat bit down on his own little finger, smoothing the blood over his fledgling’s lips.

Louis’s eyes shot open and, sucking the blood from his lips, he could just make out his maker’s eyes sparkling blue in the blackness.

“I love you, Louis,” Lestat said, pressing his lips to Louis’s cheek.

“So silky soft, so soft....” And the piercing green eyes were hidden once more.

Lestat lay in Louis’s unwavering grip, listening to his fledgling’s heart steadily beating as if on a gong, slow and rhythmic. He stroked Louis’s icy brow, the lustrous black hair. His finger traced the strong jaw and the slope of the neck. His hand smoothed the silk over Louis’s shoulder, down the powerful arm. So rigid, the flesh beneath his touch, like marble. He found Louis’s hand across his abdomen and stroked each long, delicate finger. He ran his hand up, over the flat stomach to rest upon the unyielding chest. So like a swimmer’s physique, sinewy, its strength disguised.

“Oh, Louis,” Lestat sighed. “What am I going to do while you’re away? My precious Louis, my sweet, gentle-hearted little brother. And our darling Chérie. With whom will I watch the deepening twilight?” Little laugh. “Do you know she never speaks?” he asked the inanimate face. “She only watches the colors change, enthralled. And once or twice she has turned her rapture on me, as I babble incessantly. Loving it.”

He closed his eyes to the darkness and, after a while, began humming softly. Notes stringing together, new, lilting and melodic. His eyes flew open. Louis’s lips touching his flesh. He’d moved in his sleep, and had instantly fallen motionless again.

Lestat smiled. “You like that song, my Louis? Yes, perhaps I’ll write while you’re gone. Record another album. Under a different name, I think.” He laughed. “Then I could be as syrupy as I like and no one would be the wiser. Except you, Louis. I’d have to let you in on the secret, wouldn’t I? Despite what you say, you’ve always understood. You and Chérie never laugh at my human vanity, and that might be enough. But could I do it, make something from nothing anonymously? Just put the music out there, no videos, no concerts, and see if it flies, like they did in decades past? I don’t know, Louis.”

He stretched the arm cradling his fledgling’s head and rested his fingertips over the vein at Louis’s throat, feeling the blood pumping steadily under the hardened preternatural skin. An intimate place to touch a vampire, a lover’s touch.

“And perhaps I will let David ply me for details of my mortal youth, ruthlessly make him blush as I describe deflowering the sweet young maids.” He let his lids fall shut. “I had them all, you know. Oh, Louis. And what if there is a family lurking out there? Could they know about me, the country lord who violated their ancestral mother? Has some distant granddaughter read my book and recognized her own history?”

His legs were like lead and he pressed close to Louis, sliding his free arm tightly over his fledgling’s waist.

“It would be too delicious. Ah, Louis! There is much to do. And you will love where I’m sending you. Simply perfect.”

The stillness overtook him and he was finally, mercifully quiet.

Night Six

Rue Royale

The taste of blood. Rich blood, powerful blood. Louis’s tongue slid over his lips, searching out the source of the luscious scent.

“That’s right. Wake up, Louis.”

He sucked up the blood, so hungry. The tingling danced through him, not enough.

“Chérie,” he murmured.

Lips against his ear. “Try again, bien-aimé. Your older lover, your first love.”

His lips slowly formed a smile.


A purring in his ear. “I love it when you say my name.”

“Love you,” Louis whispered, sliding back into sleep.

The scent of blood and his lips parted, the warmth trickling into his mouth.


“Tonight, you feast. But you must awaken.”

Icy flesh against his lips and his mouth suddenly filled with the thick warmth. His eyes shot open as he drew on the blood, the passionate roar as the blood raced through his limbs, animating them. He reached for the flesh but it was gone.

“Just a taste, Louis. To jump-start that cold engine.”

“I am not a car.” Louis smiled as he watched Lestat unsuccessfully fight off a wave of giggles. He had to laugh.

His maker pushed the lid wide and Louis squinted against the light.

“It can’t kill you, Louis,” Lestat assured him, stepping from the chest and drawing Louis to his feet. “Not anymore. You are truly immortal.”

“It still hurts,” Louis said, though he realized in the same instant that the pain was almost imperceptible.

“Yes, but tolerable.” Lestat smiled. “Come. I want you to watch the sunset.”

Still groggy, he let his maker drag him to the front parlor and out onto the balcony. An arm shot to his eyes.

“Mon Dieu!” There was still yellow in the western sky!

“Breathe, Louis,” Lestat coaxed patiently. “It’s only habit. The pain is not great, feel it as it really is. The sun cannot kill you.” He guided his fledgling into an iron chair, still warm from the afternoon sun.

Louis slowly lowered his arm, mesmerized by the colors staining the sky. He glanced around him at the Rue Royale, still basking in the fading light. Dusty pinks and bright creams, bathed in amber. And back at the sky, the mauves and fuchsias layered with crimson and orange. And lower still, yellow.

“So beautiful!” he said in a delighted gasp.

“Yes, Louis. Almost as beautiful as you are in this light.”

He glanced back at his maker, wanting to see the light in Lestat’s face, and was aghast to find the video camera trained on him!

“Please put that thing away.”

He was surprised when Lestat actually did as he commanded, setting the camera on the little table as he lowered himself into another chair beside Louis.

A low moan escaped Louis’s lips and he reached for Lestat’s hair, shimmering with hues of gold and peach.

Lestat smiled and patted the camera. “When you see the tape, you’ll see how this light affects you, as well. Chérie will put it on that pretty computer and you will not mind.”

“Will it capture the sunset?”

“Oh, yes. And I hold the patents on the design which put the technology in such a small device.” He smiled to himself and shook his head. “But it will be your infallible memory that makes it beautiful again, because your eyes see the depth as no camera can.”

Louis reached for Lestat’s hand and they sat watching as pink and scarlet gradually gave way to rich violet and the deepest blue. It was one of those rare moments he so loved, when the mind was blissfully silent.

“You do this every evening?” Louis asked quietly. Stars winked on as the colors dissolved.

“Most evenings. Unless something pressing needs my attention.”

He gave his maker’s hand a squeeze. “I am envious. Have you ever been able to consciously awaken yourself earlier or later?”

Lestat shook his head. “I don’t believe I’ve really tried.” The corner of his mouth twisted into a smile. “Somehow, I doubt an alarm clock will be of much use, Louis.”

“Not exactly what I was thinking,” Louis said, smiling. “But there must be a reason I sleep as late as I do. Perhaps there is a way to train myself, use...oh, what do they call it?”

“Behavior modification.”

“Yes, precisely.”

“It’s possible, of course,” Lestat said, rapping his nails absently on the table. “But the little trick I played on you this evening is the only method I know. You could always build something that would--”

“No, that’s too disgusting.” Louis shuddered and shook his head. “Waking to cold blood? Thank you, no.”

Lestat smiled, his blue-gray eyes distant. “And untidy, if your head turns in your sleep, as it did last night.”

“I moved in my sleep?” Louis freed his hand and pushed himself back in the chair, though he was perfectly upright already.

His maker murmured a confirmation. “I was humming something while awaiting sleep and you turned your head, kissing me.” His fingers touched his head. “Here. I cannot be certain it was a kiss, of course, but that’s how it felt, and you had not moved again by the time I awakened.”

Louis pressed a thumb to his lips, laughter sparking his dark green eyes. “Music to wake the dead.” He regarded his maker suspiciously. “What else did you do after I’d fallen asleep?”

Lestat seemed startled from a deep contemplation. He shrugged lightly, making a tiny gesture with his hand. “Stroked your hair, listened to your heart beating, babbled about finding mortal children, and whispered things that would make us both blush.”

Louis furrowed his brow. Lestat was telling him the truth! He had expected a biting remark, lecherous teasing, anything but the truth. “Lestat, are you feeling well? Is anything wrong?”

“Of course, something is wrong,” his maker said. Impatiently, but it was not directed at his fledgling. “You’re leaving tonight and it will be an eternity before I see you again.” He breathed a long sigh. “And I should be livid. I should be furious with you both. But the simple truth is that I’m not. There won’t be time for this later and I will be even more miserable if I wait until you’re gone.” He laughed at the irony. “You’re right, Louis. It makes it real.”

“Lestat, if you feel like this, why are you sending us away?” Louis gave his head a confused shake. “We don’t need this trip. You know Chérie would say the same.”

“Oh, spare me, Louis! Don’t you think I know that? I am painfully aware that if I were to squeeze out one tear, you’d call the whole thing off. Without question, and you would still go on loving me!” Lestat clenched his fist and sprang to his feet. He took a couple of steps along the balcony and whirled back on Louis. “There are times I could do it, manipulate you that way. Hell, there are times I have done it! Plenty of times!”

Louis tipped his head and stared up at his maker. “I know that, Lestat. What’s your point?”

His maker sighed and leaned back against the intricate wrought-iron railing. “For once, I want to make the selfless gesture.” He grinned maliciously. “Yes, I know. Hilarious.” He spread his hands before him, as if holding out a newspaper. “And the headlines scream, ‘Brat Prince Does Good!’ Right above, ‘Queen Mum Takes Martian Lover!’” He mimicked crumpling the paper and throwing it over his shoulder before crossing his arms dejectedly.

Louis laughed hard, his shoulders shaking. “Now there’s a priceless image!”

Lestat glared at him, but his stern posture gave way, bit by bit, until he pressed a hand to his lips to keep from falling into a laughing fit of his own.

“Oh, Lestat. I’m sorry for laughing, but that was wonderful.” Louis dug his handkerchief out of his pocket and dried his eyes. “Dearest Lestat. Please hear me now. Sadness and a little self-pity come with the territory, as they say. And for two years, you have done nothing but amaze me with your generosity and your goodwill. Chérie, as well, but she has never known you to be otherwise. You are doing splendidly in this, as you excel in everything you do.”

Louis rose from his chair, set one hand against his maker’s waist, and pressed the other to his back, pulling him onto his shoulder and leaning against him gently.

First one, then another, and then a chorus of ah’s arose from across the street.

Lestat pivoted on Louis’s arm and together they beheld about a dozen mortals watching them. Louis raised one hand to his forehead and extended it to them briefly. He smiled at his maker, who was frowning at the smattering of applause that had broken out.

“Not enough for you?” Louis teased. He quickly tipped his head and kissed Lestat’s cheek, holding the embrace until the applause grew loud. He pulled back just enough to see his maker’s eyes.

Lestat laughed. “Be careful, Louis. You’re enjoying this more every night. But if you think you’re getting good at it, remember, I’m better.” He took a deep breath and turned to the gathered fans. “Hey!” he said, loud enough for them to hear and the entire group fell silent.

“What are you doing, Lestat?” Louis hissed.

Lestat grinned wickedly and turned back to the mortals. “Hey, Louis’s getting married tonight!”

“Merde!” Louis leaned one hand on the rail and bowed his head.

There were more than a few disappointed moans coming from the group, and then the clapping started, building, along with a few congratulatory shouts from the males.

“They love you, Louis,” Lestat said, beaming. “Not as much as I do, of course, but listen to them.”

Louis turned his head to watch the band of mortals and their clapping grew louder under his attention. Slowly, he straightened.

“But must you tell them that? They will scour every church in the hopes of finding us. Our history with St. Louis’s is hardly a secret.” He glared at his maker.

“What was the name of that plantation they passed off as Pointe du Lac?”

“Oak Alley.”

“What? I couldn’t hear you.”

“Oak Alley,” Louis repeated firmly, growing more annoyed.

“What? They couldn’t hear you.”

Louis fought hard not to grin. “Oak Alley!” he said loudly and strode quickly into the flat. He turned as soon as he was out of view, pressing both hands over his mouth.

Lestat, still on the balcony, threw up his hands in consternation and yelled after him, “Of course, it will be lovely there!” And he sauntered in, falling into Louis’s arms as they both burst out laughing.

“Good Lord, I hope they heard that,” Louis said, as Lestat pulled him down on the silver damask.

“I heard them passing it around before I made my exit.”

“Exit?” David repeated as he stepped into the parlor. “What sort of mischief are you two plotting?”

Lestat turned wide-eyed to Louis and they burst out laughing again.

“Oh, do stop that cackling, Lestat, and Louis--” David halted abruptly and glanced at his watch. “Louis! What are you doing awake at this hour?”

“Watching the sunset,” Louis said, eyes alight.

“Really? Then you’ve already been up awhile?”

“Yes. Lestat woke me early.”

David peered quizzically at his maker but Lestat only grinned smugly.

Louis thought he could almost see the elderly scholar gazing from the young man’s eyes. “David, have you ever tried to alter the time you rise?”

“I have not, but that’s an interesting question. That you are awake now would certainly indicate that rising earlier, or later I suppose, than our natural bent is achievable.” David smoothed an unruly lock of dark brown hair off his forehead. “How did Lestat awaken you?”

“A few drops of blood.”

Lestat shook his head. “That was more than a few drops, Louis.”

“Explain it then, rather than simply gloating,” Louis challenged.

His maker sighed and turned to David. “A few drops of blood produces some movement, in the eyes, the mouth. But it won’t animate limbs. It took a generous swallow,” he glanced at Louis for confirmation, “generous, yes, before Louis could move his arms.”

“Do you know of anything else that has disturbed your sleep, Louis? Lestat, we saw your body move on that ship, so it could be proximity to blood. Or a change in light, perhaps.”

“I’ve been told,” Louis said, “that some music will cause me to turn in my sleep.”

Lestat giggled and Louis could feel the flush rising in his cheeks.

David studied their maker as he slowly circled to a chair. “So, Armand was correct regarding your hasty retirement last night. Do stop snickering, Lestat, your indiscretion is appalling. None of us believed your claim of exhaustion. We simply could not agree upon your true motivation.” He smiled, though he politely tried to hide it. “That you are both in your stocking feet does nothing to conceal the truth, of course.”

Louis grimaced and drew a finger across his brow. “Please tell David what you saw, Lestat.”

His maker laid a hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry, Louis.” He faced David. “Now, not a word of this to anyone!”

“Good Lord! Of course not!” David regarded the suggestion disdainfully. “We’re family, after all. Now tell me, so Louis may start breathing again.”

Lestat quickly recounted the head-turning incident. With thankfully few adjectives, to Louis’s relief.

David shook his head. “Could be anything. Affection for you, the draw of one’s maker, the music.” He regarded Louis kindly. “Any connection to your dreams?”

Louis closed his eyes momentarily and shook his head. “None that are apparent. I will think on it and let you know.”

David nodded and smiled. “So, was the sunset worth the rude awakening, Louis?”

His eyes lighted as his expression softened. “Very much so.”

Lestat grinned mischievously. “Would you like to see, David? Merde! The camera!” He leapt to his feet and disappeared out the French windows.

David laughed. “Incorrigible.”

“Indeed.” Louis smiled.

Lestat had the tape out of the device as he reentered, pulling open the doors that concealed the enormous television screen. He popped the tape into the player, muted the sound, and stepped back.

Louis smiled when David gasped as the colors of the sunset filled the screen, Louis’s profile silhouetted against the blazing sky. The camera circled and the left side of his face was bathed in the dim light. As Louis turned to gaze on the street, the camera followed his view and stayed on him momentarily when his awed expression returned to the sky. The camera slowly panned to capture the entire canvas before turning back onto Louis. The view moved to show more of his face, cheeks and eyes radiant in the low light. Louis turned to the camera in delight, only to furrow his brow and wave it away. The camera followed the course of his hand and the picture blinked off.

“Short but very sweet,” Lestat murmured, sighing, hand to his breast. He rewound the tiny clip and pocketed the tape.

David nodded. “Yes, the time in the studio seems to have rubbed off on you, Lestat. Very nice camera work.”

“Why, thank you, David. But there’s nothing quite as wondrous as the sun’s light in a vampire’s eye.” He smiled at Louis. “In fact, if you’ll let me onto that Scottish machine of yours, I’ll leave a little present for Chérie.”

Louis beckoned Lestat and his maker crouched before him. He leaned close and drew a finger along Lestat’s jaw as he recited the passwords. “Lover. Liar. Father. Lestat.” He held up the finger. “En français. Do you remember how to type the diacriticals?” he asked, settling back on the divan as Lestat strode toward the door.

“Mais oui,” he said, disappearing down the hall.

“But of course,” David repeated. “And would he admit it if he did not?”

Louis laughed and shook his head. “No. But there is a little program on there that allows you to pick characters as if from a typesetter’s tray. Lestat is familiar with this.”

“Strange how technologies build upon themselves,” David mused. “Daniel tells me the new edition of your book is complete.”

“Precious little I had to do with it,” Louis said, smiling. “Oh, I spelled Chérie whenever she would allow while she was typing the original work onto the computer, and I needed to endure their combined onslaughts on my memory from time to time, but otherwise I left the project to their hands.” He laughed silently. “Oh, and Lestat did insist I disclose a few cheery incidents from the sixty-five years we had with Claudia. He was none too pleased I’d glossed over that period originally.” He slowly shrugged.

David nodded. “You’re no longer trying to warn the mortal world.”

“An exercise in futility, from the beginning,” Louis said. “The price of immortality is nothing compared to its allure.”

“Yes, I’m afraid you were unsuccessful in concealing this.”

“Impossible to believe I could,” Louis said. “I love this life too dearly, especially now.” He smiled.

David rose. “And speaking of which, you have a wedding to prepare for. If I may have the honor of serving as your valet?”

“I could think of none better, David. Thank you,” Louis said and gained his feet. “What is the time? I’m afraid rising early has me completely disoriented.”

“Just past nine. Early yet, but I wasn’t certain how intricately Lestat had you dressing for the occasion.”

Louis furrowed his brow. “Very. Though certainly not as courtly as he had originally proposed.” He laughed and pushed his hair back from his face. “This is New Orleans, after all, not Versailles. Still, a marvelous suit of clothes, but it will not require excessive attention. However, I do wish to take a shower first, to get warm.”

David nodded. “I’ll come by your rooms on the hour then.”

Louis returned his nod and, stepping from the parlor, nearly collided with Daniel. He caught his adopted fledgling by the shoulders and looked him up and down proudly.

“You look splendid, Daniel!”

Certainly the black tuxedo was modern but something about the longer cut of the coat and the tapering of the slacks felt Old World. Over the crisp white shirt Daniel wore a vest in silver and gold brocade. It had an almost burnished sheen that perfectly complemented his hair.

Daniel smiled. “Thank you, Louis. There’s nothing as luxurious as fine tailoring, is there? With Armand back, I’m beginning to remember how much I enjoyed the innumerable hours we’ve spent over the years just being fitted.”

“I’m glad for you, Daniel,” Louis said sincerely. He laid an arm across his shoulder. “I have a small favor to ask.”

“Name it and it’s done,” Daniel said.

Louis smiled. “Thank you. Check in on Lestat while Chérie and I are gone. With the work on the new edition finished, he may be feeling a bit abandoned.” His smile broadened. “And watch out when the blue lines come in so he doesn’t try to slip anything past you.”

Daniel laughed. “Not much chance of that. They’re set to ship to me in Florida. Do you think he’d accept an invitation out?”

“He might. And if for some reason he wants to stay in my suite, he’s by all means welcome. You have the keycodes.”

Daniel nodded. “I’ll keep an eye on him, Louis. You two just enjoy your trip.” He turned and patted Louis on both shoulders. “I need to get over to the penthouse. Gabrielle is anxious to make sure I don’t clash with the bride’s dress, though that’s hardly likely seeing as Lestat coordinated everything and sat in on most of the fittings.”

“Give Chérie my love, please. I’ll see you at the church.”

“Will do,” Daniel said, saluting casually and striding rapidly down the hallway.

Louis continued to his rooms. Lestat was still at work on the computer as he walked past the study and into his bedroom, closing the doors behind him. His maker’s boots were gone and the pillows had been returned to the top of his closed chest. He smiled.

“Thank you, Lestat,” he said quietly yet loud enough for his maker to hear if he was listening. Louis quickly undressed and donned a thick, cotton terry robe, cinching it tightly around his waist before opening the doors and walking to his bathroom.

He emerged several long minutes later, steam roiling from the open doors and a towel around his neck. He was running it idly over his dripping hair when Lestat called to him.

Louis crossed the sitting room and stepped into the study.

“What is it, Lestat?”

His maker leered at him. “And you didn’t invite me?”

“No,” Louis said flatly before a smile crossed his lips. “What do you want? I need to get dressed.”

Lestat beckoned him around the desk. “I’d like your opinion.”

When Louis came close, Lestat pulled him onto his lap.


“Stop your whining, Louis, and watch.”

Louis hooked an arm around his maker’s neck and watched the monitor as Lestat set the video running.

From blackness the image of Louis rose, bathed in the diminishing light. Lestat had added a soundtrack that was vaguely familiar, a single violin harmonizing serenely with the changing colors of the sunset. The clip ended frozen on Louis turning to face the camera, smiling. The frame held for a couple of seconds before fading again to blackness.

Louis furrowed his brow. “The music. I know that from somewhere, but I cannot be certain where.” He smiled. “Very nice editing, Lestat.” He patted his maker’s cheek fondly.

“I was wondering if you would recognize the music,” Lestat said, smiling.

“I have heard it before, then?”

Lestat nodded slowly. “That’s the melody I was humming last night while you slept. I brought in the violin and recorded it.” He pointed to the small microphone attached to the computer.

Louis stood suddenly, his eyes wide.

“Good Lord, Louis!” David said as he stepped into the room. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost! Sit down.” He guided Louis into a chair. “What did you show him, Lestat?”

David stepped around the desk and Lestat played the short clip. David frowned. “I don’t see what’s so upsetting about this.”

Lestat leaned back in the chair and folded his arms across his chest. “This is the music I was humming last night when Louis moved in his sleep. He recognized it, though not why. I had just told him when you entered.”

“Oh my! Yes, I can see how that might be a bit of a shock.” David knelt beside Louis. “Are you all right?”

Louis nodded. “As you say, a bit of a shock.”

“Well, why don’t you go finish drying off? Take a moment to catch your breath and I’ll be right in.” David smiled kindly.

“Yes,” Louis said, rising. “I’m fine, really.” He turned and strode into his bedroom. He vigorously rubbed his hair with the towel but shortly paused, sitting heavily on the bed.

“Too weird,” he murmured, recalling Chérie’s recent words. And what had he told her? Louis smiled and ran a hand over his face, glancing quickly at his reflection in the glass. “Relax, you fool,” he admonished his mirror image. Just as with every other answer he had ever sought, this too would be revealed in its own time. And he had time. Louis smiled a little mischievously. “‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.’ Macbeth’s line, Lestat. Macbeth’s.”

And tonight he had more pressing concerns. He breathed, deep and slow, stood, and pulled his robe tighter about him. In little more than an hour, he would see Chérie again. His green eyes instantly sparked as a smile spread across his lips.

He gathered up the damp towel and dropped it down the laundry chute. Brilliant idea, that. Lestat contracted a service that at dawn picked up soiled articles from a bin in a locked closet on the ground floor and returned them, cleaned and brushed, to the racks in the same closet before evening. Infinitely more secure than having a laundress come in.

Louis pulled open his armoire and stared for a moment at the magnificent suit of clothes, encased lightly in the thinnest film of plastic. Other articles were carefully pushed away from it on the rod. He reached out one long finger and rent the film with his nail, pushing the plastic gently off one then the other shoulder. He gathered the discarded skin and dropped it into a waste bin.

“Stunning!” he heard David gasp.

He pressed a thumb to his lips and glanced over his shoulder at his brother vampire. Louis beamed despite himself. “Yes, as much as I hate to admit it,” he turned back to the armoire, “I’m looking forward to wearing this.” He gingerly lifted the suit from the rod, cradling it until he had laid it out on the bed.

“I suppose it would be like rediscovering Harris tweed again after two hundred years.” David shook his head. “Impossible to imagine, really.”

“The change is gradual, and it’s more cut than cloth. After a time, you simply cannot wear what you once did.” Louis laughed, unfurling one finger. “Except on All Hallow’s Eve, but you know Lestat’s penchant for that.”

“Any occasion to dress up.” David chuckled. “Well aware. I’ll admit it was a relief to see him enjoy the holiday. He certainly had the children in Chérie’s neighborhood enchanted.”

Louis nodded as he lifted a small stack of woolen garments from a drawer. “He talks of making it a tradition, frightening the little children.” He laughed quietly. “They so firmly believe it’s all make-up and wire rigging, unlike here where we must always be cautious. It’s refreshing, in a way.”

“Yes, as long as Lestat doesn’t get carried away,” David said. “He maintained his decorum admirably, far better than I thought he would. But as you pointed out, it wasn’t far different from his watching your fans here.” He removed the thickly padded hanger from the suit and returned it to the armoire. “Now it seems you’ll have something ready for these little affairs.”

“His fans,” Louis corrected, cheeks flushed, thoroughly uncomfortable with the attention he’d received earlier. And feeling a little self-conscious over his pleasure with the antiquated finery. “Actually, David, I have three more suits just like this ordered. Simpler fabrics, the adornment more reserved, certainly, but as long as they had the pattern made, it seemed an opportune moment.”

“Quite right,” David said, nodding. “When something fits well, I often order reserves. A matter of practicality.” He patted Louis’s shoulder. “Now let’s get you dressed, my boy.”

Louis smiled. Easy to forget he was more than one hundred fifty years David’s senior. Both the man’s soul and the mortal body that soul occupied were older than he when they had been Born to Darkness.

David held his robe, discreetly averting his eyes, as Louis donned the archaic yet familiar undergarments. Modern milling certainly made the woolen fabric far more comfortable than he remembered. And the absence of elastic was welcome, quite pleasant, in fact.

He quickly slid into the white silk shirt, pleated at the shoulders and roomier than modern tailoring, giving more freedom of movement for the rigorous activities of his mortal youth. The full sleeves were hand-gathered at his wrists and David assisted in tying them snugly. Louis smoothed the pleated cuffs before his long fingers made their way slowly up the front placard, securely knotting each silk tie and then adjusting the lay of the ruffles on either side. Louis ran his fingers along the edge of the narrow, upright collar.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling, when David handed him the breeches. Louis ran his hand over the heavier silk before carefully pulling on the short pants and gently tucking in the tail of the long shirt. He deftly fastened the curving line of buttons rising to his hip.

Louis sat atop his chest to buckle the narrow cuffs below each knee and to pull on the tall, black boots, the leather lustrous and without blemish.

David smiled. “A living history lesson, as it were. You can observe period clothing in museums and on the color plates of printed volumes, but it’s infinitely more interesting to see them on a living form. The last decades of the eighteenth century were sumptuous times for gentlemen’s haberdashery.”

Louis smiled as he quietly stamped each boot, settling his feet into the woolen hose. He bent to tug each leg, straightened, and smoothed the black silk before running his thumbs around the waistband and evening the blousing of the shirt. David attended to the back of his shirt.

“How is that?” David asked.

“Fine, thank you. The tie next, David,” Louis prompted. “I’m not certain how valuable this lesson, as you call it, will be to you. There are small details that disturb the authenticity of the suit. The stitching overall is too perfect and the modern tacking negates the need for the myriad hidden fasteners we were forced to endure to prevent unsightly bulging in the material. Keeping buttons wrapped seemed a full-time job. Thank you,” he said as David handed him what looked like yards of pure white silk scarving. He laughed. “And the boots are simply my preference for today’s softer leathers. Not in the least accurate, I’m afraid, and they conceal my choice of the warmer woolen hose over silk, which should more properly be worn with this sort of evening suit.”

David watched, fascinated, as Louis expertly wrapped the length of fabric around his neck, weaving it through just so on the first attempt and leaving the long end draped down the front of his shirt.

“Surely it hasn’t been two hundred years since you last did this?” David asked incredulously.

Louis beamed and nodded. “A little less than that, but tie a cravat every day for a few decades and it becomes difficult to forget.” He laughed lightly.

David lifted the waistcoat and held it while Louis slipped his arms in. “Truly magnificent!”

“My one concession to Lestat. He wanted me in velvet, green naturally, with every inch bejeweled and filigreed.” Louis grinned as he fastened each pearl button. “So I allowed the extravagant waistcoat and I will admit I am rather pleased with the way it turned out.”

David admired the tapestry in metallic threads. “I presume the silver and gold are real, but whatever did they use for the blue and green. Or is that a teal?”

“I have no idea, to tell the truth. But as many times as Lestat has described us as running around in ‘peacock colors,’ I could hardly resist the motif when the designer showed his samples.”

Tipping his head, David smiled. “Oh my! The pattern forms peacock plumes, doesn’t it? Exquisitely subtle! I might never have noticed had you not called attention to it. The black silk background mutes and yet heightens the colors. Simply splendid, Louis.”

“Thank you, David.” He stepped before the looking glass and adjusted his tie, tugging it delicately to position the folds of silk over the ruffles of his shirt, adding a little depth to the ensemble.

David presented the coat and assisted hefting it onto Louis’s shoulders. “It seems a little heavy for silk.”

Louis’s cheeks flushed. “Thermal interior. As I said, the authenticity of the suit is questionable.” He smiled. “But the inner lining is concealed and the result is much warmer while adding little weight. Daniel explained how he has been doing this for years.”

“I must query my tailor when I’m next in London.” David’s eyes inspected Louis’s attire with approval.

Louis turned back to the glass and smoothed the silk coat, the blue so deep it was nearly black. The polished threads of the fabric had a sheen not unlike velvet. Tailored at the waist, the coat flared wide, becoming full at the hem just above his knees. He gently freed the lace cuffs of his sleeves so they peeked out enticingly from the bolder, broader cuffs of the coat. He reached under his hair to run his fingers along the stiff upright collar, perfectly framing his tie, and down the lapels.

The coat was adorned with a narrow geometric, almost Egyptian, filigree in silver along the edge of the collar, lapels, and around each cuff. The same silver thread was laced over the large silk-covered buttons. Tiny blue sapphires woven into the design were nearly invisible until they caught the light as he moved before the glass. Louis nodded, satisfied in the way the coat’s adornment formed a median between the intricate waistcoat and the uninterrupted field of blue.

“A stunning suit of clothes,” David uttered.

“I am pleased with it,” Louis said, turning and halting abruptly when he saw David had his brush poised. “Oh, don’t be absurd! Please, David. Thank you, but you have exceeded all generosity as it is. And you have yourself to dress yet.”

David chuckled and reluctantly surrendered the brush. “Very well, Louis. You are correct, of course. Thank you for allowing me to assist.”

Louis took his hand and pulled him into an embrace. “The pleasure was most assuredly mine.” He smiled as David stepped away. “Thank you.”

He began brushing his hair after David had gone, the lustrous black waves cascading over his shoulders. He stared at it in the glass. “I should probably cut it,” he muttered to his reflection.

“Do it and you die! Again!” Lestat said from out in the sitting room, laughing as he stepped into the bedroom. His hand flew to his breast when he saw Louis. “Mon Dieu!”

Louis tossed the brush on the bed. “And I could say the same for you! My God, Lestat! You look marvelous.” He ran his hands over his maker’s velvet suit.

“You shouldn’t sound so surprised, mon petit,” Lestat scolded. His blue-gray eyes followed in wonder as he let his fingers trail down Louis’s lapels and tarry on his waistcoat. “I didn’t think all that silk would work, but you certainly pulled it off, even if it’s not in green.”

“Nonsense. This deep emerald has always suited you far better than it ever did me. Sets off your hair perfectly.” His finger traced the intricate gold filigree covering the lapels of his maker’s coat. The same rich pattern flowered across his waistcoat. “You look wonderful, Lestat.”

Lestat grinned, draped an arm around his fledgling’s shoulders, and turned him to the glass. “We are a pair, aren’t we?”

Louis laughed. The image might well be a photograph of their first years together. “This is so familiar! I should complain about something just to make it complete.”

“And I suppose I would necessarily remind you that you are hopelessly sentimental.” Lestat kissed him quickly. “I do love that waistcoat.”

Louis unwound himself and returned his brush to its drawer in the armoire. “I knew you would.”

“Transparent, am I?” Sitting atop Louis’s chest, Lestat patted the wood beside him. “Come. Sit with me.”

Louis sat, drawing up one knee so he could face his maker.

Taking his fledgling’s hands gently, Lestat’s expression faded, becoming serious. “Louis, it’s almost time to go and in a few minutes, all hell is going to break loose and you won’t know a moment’s peace until you’re whisked aboard Armand’s jet, streaking off to parts unknown.” He grinned wickedly. “Which is a season in a secluded villa on the Côte d’Azur, by the way.”

“Lestat!” Louis wrapped his arms around his maker and was startled by the gripping pressure he received in return. “It’s perfect.”

“Blue everywhere,” Lestat whispered, his voice faltering. “More clean, crisp air than you’ll know what to do with.” He cleared his throat and released Louis. “I’ll announce it later, of course, in my own retiring fashion.” He smiled when Louis laughed. “So if you want to surprise Chérie, let me know when you’ve told her.”

Louis shook his head. “I’d like her to hear it from you.”

“Fine. There’s a parcel for you in the stateroom on the plane that contains everything. A copy of the lease. Directions from the airport, though a limo will be waiting. Passports that show you’re American so they don’t try to draft you the moment they hear your accent.” He laughed. “And a Eurail pass, at Daniel’s suggestion, in case you feel like taking the train. The keys are in there, as well, for the villa and the cars. And letters of introduction for my Paris agent.” Lestat covered Louis’s hands with his. “The trip is my gift, Louis, so don’t complain. You and Chérie shouldn’t be bothered with these things. Whatever you need, tickets to the opera, a flat in the city, anything at all, let my man arrange it for you. But be certain to contact him just before you return. He’ll want some information about the villa.”

“What sort of information?”

Lestat shrugged. “I believe he also represents the owners and they like to get appraisals from their tenants.” He shook his head and laughed. “Or he’s trying to buy it for himself, I’m not sure. He stressed getting your honest opinion rather determinedly. Oh, and something about the villa. There’s a rooftop terrace with a staircase that allows a straight drop three floors down. Into darkness.” He waved his hand dismissively. “If you want to do a little sunbathing.” He winked.

Louis laughed aloud. “You really hate how pale I’ve become, don’t you? I’ll think about it,” he conceded quickly, before his maker could protest. “Thank you, Lestat. Your impeccable attention to detail never ceases to amaze me. But promise me one thing? That you’ll come find us if you need us at all?” His finger shot up and he grinned. “Now, I expect you to use some discretion, but don’t be stubborn either.”

Lestat shook his head. “You know I won’t do that, Louis. Besides, you’ll only be gone a few months. Give me a chance to see if you’ve ruined me so much I can’t stand to be around myself anymore.” He laughed mischievously. “And there’s always the renovation of Chérie’s house.”

“Renovation?” Louis frowned. “You mentioned wallpaper, Lestat. Anything further involving the walls, especially moving them, and you should allow Chérie into your confidence.”

“She knows me well enough to understand I would not stop there,” his maker said.

Louis laughed silently. “Perhaps. But please consult her anyway?”

Before Lestat could respond, Armand stepped into the room. “Are you two ready? The limo is here.”

“David and Marius?” Lestat asked.

“Already gone. Let’s go and get this over with.”

Louis rose, smiling. “Armand, my friend.” He ran his long fingers down Armand’s coat, identical in cut to his own and Lestat’s, though in unbroken black velvet. His waistcoat was a simple brocade in claret, burgundy, and russet, a fine gold thread winding its way through the fiery pattern. He looked back into the large, brown eyes but they were locked on Lestat.

His maker’s expression was distant, centuries away, peaceful yet aggrieved. His parted lips suddenly pressed together and he determinedly tore his gaze away. In the next instant, he was on his feet, as if the moment had never occurred.

“Let’s go,” he said, striding from the room.

Louis furrowed his brow. “What was that about, my friend?”

Amusement warmed the soft eyes. “First love. Now come, before he leaves us to fight our way through your mortal fans.”

“Please don’t torment him, Armand,” Louis said as they stepped from his rooms.

“He torments himself.” He held the backdoor for Louis and they found Lestat waiting for them beside the fountain.

“Do you have everything?” Louis asked his maker. “Rings, license, whatever else is needed?”

Lestat patted his breast and took his fledgling’s arm as Armand led them through the covered carriageway and out to the waiting Rolls Royce. Armand spoke quietly with the driver before sliding onto the leather seat beside them.

“We will take an indirect route, to avoid being followed,” Armand announced. He touched Louis’s shoulder. “Relax, Louis.”

Lestat giggled and pressed his fingers to his lips when Louis glared at him.

Louis could not hold his scowl, however, seeing no cruelty in his maker’s eyes. Only love. He smiled and slid his fingers under Lestat’s, intertwining them, feeling his maker’s steady pulse through his palm and allowing it to calm his own rapid heartbeat. Good Lord! Had he ever been this anxious about anything in his life? He breathed deeply.

“Yes, by all means, breathe, Louis,” Lestat said. “It’s only stage fright and you have felt this before.” He turned from the window. “But tonight, our places are reversed, bien-aimé.

Louis smiled. He suspected his maker was enjoying his new role but he said nothing.

After leaving the Quarter and then returning on the Rue Chartres, the car slowed, halting at the corner of St. Peter, alongside the Cabildo. The cathedral loomed in the center of the block.

“I will leave you here,” Armand said. He touched Louis’s hand. “We shall meet again inside.” He opened the door and stepped out. Bending to peer inside, he addressed himself to Lestat. “He is under your protection.”

When Lestat nodded, Armand closed the door and the car rolled onward.

Louis frowned.

His maker shrugged, a faint smile on his lips as he spoke. “Ceremony. Armand does love ceremony.” He sighed. “As best man, I am your champion. The last bastion against any harm befalling you. Steadfastly by your side.” A sharp laugh and he shook his head. “Armand will secure the area, as it were, clearing out any pockets of danger before rejoining us in the cathedral.”

“What dangers could there possibly be?” Louis asked, amused. The image of champion and lieutenant was far too romantic to take seriously.

“Here we are,” Lestat said, ignoring the question. The car had taken a path usually reserved for the vehicles of the clergy, stopping before the rectory. As they waited for the driver to open the door, Lestat regarded his fledgling with utter calm. “With all of us in one place, there is always danger. And we have never gathered so publicly.”

Louis slid from the car and nodded when the driver tipped the bill of his cap. Yes, it was true what Lestat said. Nameless revenants, curious mortals, ardent fans. Talamasca, perhaps, though their threat was in the detail they kept.

He glanced up at the imposing spires of the St. Louis Cathedral. Tiny, certainly, when compared to the great gothic wonders of Europe, but still a magical sight. He remembered his awe when this magnificent structure had arisen over the ashes of its predecessor, which had succumbed to flames in seventeen eighty-eight. He had himself contributed heavily to its resurrection, though he had given it little thought at the time, feeding the Church but another duty. And it certainly had little to do with the permanence he’d felt seeing the turrets rise over the city for the first time, the striking realization that his New Orleans would endure. The pivotal moments of his life seemed converged on the rapid ascension of this building.

“The monuments of mortal man,” Lestat said, following his gaze. “I remember seeing it that first night, coming up the Bayou St. Jean and knowing I’d found my home.”

“Home, yes.” Louis smiled.

The rectory door opened and Father Michel emerged. The priest, in his early forties, was seasoned enough for tolerance, Maharet had said, not prone to overreact as a younger priest might or fall to paralyzing fear as with the more aged clergy.

He saw their glances and descended a few steps so he might turn to look up at the cathedral.

“Every so often,” the priest mused, “usually when my mind is weighed upon, something up there suddenly catches my eye and I will be halted by the sheer beauty, as if seeing it anew.” He turned and smiled at them. “Bonsoir, messieurs.”

Louis smiled. “Good evening, Father.” Though from an old French family, Father Michel was American, his French more a remembrance from two years abroad early in his career.

The priest shook his head in wonder as he surveyed their suits, his short black hair swishing gently above his ears, his few silver strands catching the light. His clear brown eyes twinkled at Lestat. “You said this would be an old-fashioned wedding, monsieur, but such authentic period attire!” He ushered them into the rectory, the two vampires towering over his modest height as they passed. “As you know, I also have the privilege of maintaining the cathedral’s records,” he explained. His smile seemed almost guilty. “And I must admit I have spent many happy hours in the archives here, and with the public records, learning of New Orleans during the first days of this cathedral.”

“Yes, a fascinating time,” Lestat said, winking at Louis as the priest secured the door. “I found it enjoyable myself.”

Father Michel nodded as he led them through a labyrinth of hallways. “To research such apparel, I suppose you must.” They entered a small chamber of whitewashed plaster, sparingly furnished.

He invited them to sit on the severe wooden bench affixed to one wall, its varnish softened by the centuries. “You may wait here. I must see to my vestments and will then ensure the bridal party has arrived before we enter the chapel.” He took Lestat’s hand in both of his, seemingly impervious to the icy touch. “It will be a pleasure being attended by the best man and maid of honor. It is so rarely done anymore. Merci beaucoup.” The priest smiled warmly before excusing himself.

Louis shook his head as he lowered himself onto the bench. “We should have worn gloves.” He let out a single laugh. “And I can only imagine his reaction if he comes across my name in the original registries.”

Lestat laughed quietly. “Everything is fine, Louis.” He sat and idly ran a finger along Louis’s hair. “Don’t fret, mon petit. It will all be beautiful.”

“Yes. Relax,” Louis chided himself, closing his eyes and tipping his head back. His brow furrowed and he turned a quizzical expression on his maker. “Chapel?”

“The main sanctuary would be too difficult to secure,” Lestat explained. “And as beautiful as it is, making Chérie cross that emptiness wouldn’t do. So you will be married in the private chapel, where the clergy make their devotions.” He grinned. “It’s the more stunning sanctuary, at any rate.”

Louis turned, drawing a leg under him so he might face his maker. “You’ve done well, Lestat,” he said, seeing his affection mirrored in his maker’s eyes. “Everything is perfect and it’s all your doing. You take very good care of us.”

Lestat scowled. “Oh, don’t go getting maudlin on me, Louis!” Yet, he could not keep from smiling.


I am here, my love, he answered quickly.

“What is it?” his maker asked, concerned.

Louis shook his head and smiled. “Chérie has arrived. She must be terribly anxious to break her silence like that.” His smile faded as he saw a shadow cross his maker’s blue-gray eyes. “You know, Lestat. There were many times I wished you could read my thoughts, but none so much as at this moment.” He took his maker’s hand and studied his strong fingers, the carefully tended nails. “Then I could show you how truly selfless you have been through all of this.”

“You fool yourself again, Louis.”

He smiled. “Yes, frequently. But face it, Lestat. Sometimes you are a nice guy. And this is one of those times.” Louis’s green eyes scanned the room in wonder. “You forget that now I know what you gave up when you agreed to make Chérie. Good Lord, Lestat! I could never have done that! I could never endure the silence.”

“You, Louis?” Lestat laughed incredulously. “Of course you could.” He sought Louis’s gaze. “For love, you would.”

Louis smiled. “Exactly,” he said with a triumphant sigh. “Your sacrifice was for love, the gift from your heart. See it as it really is!”

Lestat leaned away from him suddenly, confusion obscuring his features. Slowly, his eyes widened as the recognition of his words and his own actions crept in, though his head shook defiantly. His lips moved as if to speak, but no words came. He stood hastily and Louis rose with him, startled by the rapid change he felt swelling in his maker. The tiny room seemed instantly charged, electric. Every hair, prickling.

Standing close behind, Louis wrapped an arm around Lestat’s chest, resting his palm over the spot where he knew his maker’s heart was twisting, just as his was. His voice was urgent and low. “Don’t try to speak. It’s all right, Lestat. Everything is perfect and, for now, that is enough.” He could feel Lestat’s heart pounding beneath his touch, the love loosed within his maker. “Know that I feel this, too. And yes, my beloved, that we understand without visions.”

Lestat shook his head slowly. “Human love?” he asked, his awed whisper barely audible. He whipped around to face Louis, any more words catching before they could find voice. Lestat ran his hands over Louis’s face, down his arms, and back to his face, as if assuring himself his fledgling was real.

Louis breathed deeply, closing his eyes, relishing his maker’s touch. “Yes, but more than that, as we are more than human.” He opened his eyes and cupped his maker’s face in his hand while smoothing back the brilliant hair. There wasn’t much time. Louis forced his voice into a tone he hadn’t used in two hundred years. Calm, assured, and undeniable. A master’s voice. “You’ve spoken of it yourself, Lestat, of our true silent voices. You understood it even then. Hold onto that for now. That you knew, that you’ve always known.” His gaze shifted abruptly to the door. “Armand and the priest are coming.”

His maker seemed distraught. “Now? And what of Chérie?”

Louis smiled. “You gave this gift to us both, Lestat.”

“I gave?”

“Yes, and we won’t go anywhere until we can talk about this. We won’t go anywhere,” he repeated firmly and Lestat appeared to calm. Louis smiled wickedly. “Now, we’re going to go get me married and you will kindly do me the favor of not falling so madly in love with the night that you forget yourself.”

Lestat frowned for several long seconds, recognizing something in his fledgling’s words. Then he burst out laughing. “Oh Louis! You’ve waited a long time to have back at me for that, haven’t you?”

“All my life, it seems,” Louis said warmly. “Are you ready?”

A mild panic still lighted his maker’s eyes as footsteps approached. The feelings were too strong to conceal.

Louis leaned over and whispered in his ear hurriedly. “I would have let you rot in that mortal body, you know.”

Lestat instantly glowered at him.

“That’s my Lestat,” Louis said, beaming with affection. “Now cover those teeth!”

Father Michel appeared in the doorway but waited for Armand to enter first.

The auburn-haired vampire eyed Lestat warily. “What’s wrong with him?” he asked Louis.

Louis peered at his maker before turning a puzzled expression on Armand. “Nothing. Why do you ask, my friend?”

Lestat suppressed a giggle.

“Never mind. But I will find out. You know this.”

“Yes, of course,” Louis said. “Is everything in readiness?”

Armand nodded. “Everyone is here.”

Father Michel touched Louis’s shoulder. “Yes, if you are ready, we may begin.” He smiled kindly.

Louis nodded and returned his smile.

The priest led the way down the hallway, followed by Louis and Lestat, with Armand in the rear. They walked in silence, turning twice before Father Michel ushered them into the sacristy. Through the open door to his right, Louis could see the dimly lighted main sanctuary, the gilded statuary saints ghostly in the long shadows. They moved to the left and into an anteroom.

Father Michel came and took Louis’s hands, smiling up at him kindly. “I wanted to remind you briefly that because of your allergy to grains and inability to consume the Host, we will be celebrating the modified Eucharist. Chérie, in her wish to be your complete partner in this life, requested and has been granted dispensation to share this celebration with you.”

Louis glanced at his maker and then smiled at the priest gratefully. “Thank you, Father.”

Father Michel grinned. “Now I have never had occasion to celebrate the modified Eucharist so if I may explain, for myself as much as for these other gentlemen.”

“Please, Father,” Louis prompted.

“Thank you. When the Host is presented and you offer your response, rather than placing the Host in your hand or on your tongue, I will only touch the Host to your tongue and then retain the wafer. Now, is that sufficient?” The priest’s concern filled his brown eyes. “I understand, in some cases, even this much contact may prove harmful.”

Louis smiled. “No, my physician assures me this is quite safe. Thank you for your concern, Father.”

The priest seemed relieved. “Very good! I have already instructed Chérie on this matter. But if you’ll excuse me for one moment, I’ll give one last check on the bridal party to ensure they are ready. It won’t take a moment.”

“Certainly, Father,” Louis said, watching until the priest had slipped out the door they’d entered. He turned to Lestat. “And exactly how did you know about this, docteur de Lioncourt?

“You should read more than literature and philosophy, Louis. There’s a whole world of ghastly diseases out there terrifying mortals.”

Louis’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Yes, but why no warning? You only just discovered this, didn’t you?”

His maker grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “Four days ago, as I was clearing the last of the things out of the orphanage. There were stacks of papers explaining modern Catholic practices and I found this one thankfully near the top.”

Louis smiled. “And if you hadn’t found it?”

“Take it on the tongue, wait a moment, and then cough it into your hand.” Lestat smiled. “Crude, I’ll admit, but effective.”

“Sounds like something you would do, ratcatcher,” Armand sneered.

Lestat laughed. “You’re correct, of course. I hated going to Confession. It seemed a perfect waste of a morning. Much preferred being out with my dogs. But I couldn’t exactly let my father know that, could I?” His smile was centuries removed.

Louis watched, amazed. “Good memories, Lestat? About your father?”

His maker nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, yes. I have a few.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Louis said, smiling. “I liked your father, very much.”

“Why, thank you, Pollyanna.” Lestat winked.

Armand regarded Lestat blankly. “Something is wrong.”

Louis sighed. “Nothing is wrong except that I’m a did Daniel say it?”

“Basketcase, I believe it was,” Lestat offered.

“Yes, thank you. A complete basketcase.”

“A few nerves, Louis?” Father Michel asked, rejoining them. “Well, action conquers fear and the ladies are ready, so we can get started.” He gestured for Armand to lead the way.

Armand’s fingers hesitated for an instant beside the small fount of holy water by the entrance to the chapel before he dampened a finger. Touching it to his forehead, he made the Sign of the Cross and passed through the door.

Louis smiled. No burns mysteriously appeared on his friend, the walls did not tremble, and there was not one peep of thunder. They remained the only supernatural presence in the building, following as mortals did, and as Lestat had insisted, every tiny tradition of the Church. It would be a proper wedding, his maker had said repeatedly. He felt certain Lestat would have enlisted a detachment of Swiss Guards, were such a thing still possible, as had been common practice until the colony became American.

Lestat gave Louis a quick kiss on each cheek before dipping his finger and crossing himself. Louis followed suit, as did the priest.

Bowing hastily before the altar, Louis smiled at the gathered vampires and gazed about the chapel. Lestat was correct, the smaller sanctuary was stunning. The architecture, while harkening of the main sanctuary, was more intimate and, strangely, more human. The few candles warmed the space with a mild, amber light. A room for quiet contemplation.

Louis leaned over to his maker. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered, smiling when Lestat beamed.

The priest motioned for everyone to rise. Louis, Lestat, and Armand turned toward the back of the chapel. Over the heads of the other vampires, Louis saw Maharet enter first, in a long gown, the soft wool dyed pale indigo, the lines elegant and timeless, the skirt flaring wide at the hem. The full-length sleeves were trimmed at the wrist with pure white Bruxelles lace, the same lace forming a collar around the modest neckline.

Then Jesse entered, her gown in light emerald green satin, but otherwise identical to Maharet’s.

Finally, Daniel stepped into the chapel with Chérie gently on his arm. She carried a perfect white rose, a sprig of Queen’s Wreath delicately entwined about its long stem.

Her eyes sought Louis’s and when they locked, he nearly wept. The tightness around his heart seemed to swell as they slowly approached. Her gown was identical to the others. Yet in snowy white silk, it had an unmatched radiance. She alone wore a hat, low of crown, moderate brim, covered in the same white silk. From it hung a half-veil that appeared dusted in diamond flakes. Or was it simply her eyes sparkling behind it?

Louis smiled and touched his maker’s hand when he felt it squeeze his shoulder. If anyone uttered a sound in the chapel, he could not hear it. He heard only her approach, the rustling of her gown like the breeze through her walnut tree, her heart pounding like his.

I love you, they told each other silently.

He felt a tear slowly steal down his cheek. Lestat’s handkerchief quietly appeared in his hand and he dried the tear, stuffing the linen into his pocket as Daniel delivered Chérie into his hands. He immediately pressed her fingers to his lips and then they faced the priest.

“Who gives this woman to be married?” Louis heard the priest ask, and he could hear the amusement in his adopted fledgling’s voice as he replied.

“Her father and I do,” Daniel said.

He glanced at Chérie to see her smile. The strange deafness deepened, for Louis was vaguely aware the priest was offering a prayer and they had knelt to receive his blessing. He could only hear the beating of her heart, pounding an identical rhythm with his. He felt her smooth flesh in his hand, wondering at every tiny curve between each delicate bone.

Scripture was read but he heard none of it, stealing glimpses of her as they knelt and stood, knelt and stood. His smile grew with every passing moment, his heart bursting. Dear God! This is love!

“Will the best man and maid of honor present the gifts?”

Louis watched Jesse approach the priest holding the small golden plate and Lestat, the chalice. For the small service, the priest prepared the gifts in front of them rather than on the altar. As the priest began to prepare the wine, his gaze seemed to cloud. In that moment, Lestat carefully gashed his wrist and allowed his blood to spill into the chalice. He then presented the cup to the priest, as if prepared, and the prayers continued.

The priest offered the Host. “The Body of Christ.”

“Amen,” Louis responded and the priest touched the wafer to his tongue. The priest repeated the modified presentation with Chérie.

Then he offered the cup to Louis. “The Blood of Christ.”

“Amen,” Louis again responded, taking the cup and drinking half its contents, glancing up at Lestat over its rim as the still-warm blood tingled through him.

The priest offered the chalice to Chérie. She responded and drained the cup. A hushed snicker escaped one of the vampires behind them and Louis grinned.

They rose and turned to face each other. Taking her hands, Louis was immediately lost in her blue-gray eyes. So clear, so full of love for him.

The priest was asking questions quietly.

He heard himself answering, repeating the words. Louis could only feel her pulse racing through her fingers.

“May I have the rings, please?”

Louis turned to see Lestat step forward and set two rings in Father Michel’s hands. The priest said a brief prayer over the rings and handed one to Louis.

As Louis slid the ring on Chérie’s finger, he repeated the priest’s words. He smiled as he pivoted the white gold band on her finger, interlocking the teardrop-cut, flawless, white diamond with its sapphire mate. Together, they formed one round stone, in an ancient symbol of harmony.

She gasped silently.

The priest handed her the second ring, a wider band in white gold, inlaid with an identical set of the twin stones.

As she slid it on Louis’s finger, she echoed his words.

Father Michel spread his arms wide and joyously spoke a few more words. When the gathered vampires began applauding, Louis gently folded the veil back over her hat and took Chérie in his arms, pressing her close, kissing her. She pulled the hat free as he reached to stroke her hair, her cheek, kissing away the blood tears the moment they appeared.

And the cathedral’s bells began chiming midnight. They all halted, looking up for a moment, listening to the peals of bells.

Then Jesse and Maharet had Chérie in their arms. Armand put his arm around Louis’s waist and gave him a squeeze. Louis tipped his head and kissed his friend’s cheek.

“That was worth all the fuss,” Armand admitted. “Daniel wants to get a few pictures, if you can stand it.”

Louis laughed. “I just might.”

“First, you and Chérie need to sign the register,” Lestat said, and stepped to draw Chérie to Louis. “Now stay together, you two. For a few minutes, at least.”

“Hey!” came a voice behind them and they turned, waving when they saw Daniel with a video camera. Even Louis smiled.

Lestat ushered the newlyweds back into the sacristy, while Daniel, who had hastily thrust the camera into Marius’ hands, and Armand escorted Maharet and Jesse. Signatures were quickly scrawled and they all filed out, leaving Father Michel, smiling and waving, at the altar.

Outside, the four limousines stood idling, and they piled in, Louis and Chérie, Lestat and Jesse in the lead car. As they rolled towards the townhouse, Louis drew Chérie onto his lap and nuzzled in close to her ear.

Bonsoir, Madame de Pointe du Lac.”

A shudder ran through her. “I love the sound of that,” she whispered.

Louis laughed, kissing her again.

Lestat made an idle gesture to the air. “Do you see what I’ve had to put up with for two years?” he asked Jesse. “Don’t they just make you want to vomit?”

“I’m sure if I could remember how, I would,” she agreed. Her expression quickly changed to one of mock-sympathy. She stroked Lestat’s gleaming hair. “You poor thing!”

The car pulled up in the Rue Royale, the driver jumping out to open the door. Louis stepped from the car and a chorus of shouts went up across the street. He glanced up, aghast, before glaring at his maker over the car’s roof.

“The word seems to have spread, Lestat. Get the gate,” he said. Louis quickly leaned down and spoke to Chérie. “The crowd over there is much larger than I’ve ever seen. Let’s run for cover. We can make an appearance on the balcony once we’re safely inside, if you like.”

She nodded quickly, scooping up her hat and the rose. Taking his hand, they strode straight-away for the gate as Lestat held it open. As they entered the courtyard, they heard another round of shouts go up as the next car disgorged its occupants. And then for one brief moment, all they heard was each other’s steps on the flagstones and the water splashing.

They circled the fountain and met again on the other side, Louis catching her around the waist and turning her to their silent music. She laughed and the music swelled. He pulled her close.

“I love you, Chérie,” he said, covering her lips with his briefly. He breathed deeply of the blooming vines. “Their fragrance will always remind me of this moment, and that I will never be alone again.” Louis smiled. “I’m glad you wanted to wait for the flowers to bloom, my love. My wife!” He laughed.

“I love the sound of your laughter,” she said and then grinned. “My husband. I love you, Louis. Now, come. Let’s go upstairs so I can dump this hat and see what a mess I’ve made of my hair.”

He ran his long fingers over her chocolate tresses. “It’s perfect, my love.” But they mounted the stairs anyway.

At the top, he pulled her close again and grinned broadly. He opened the door and shoved his boot against the frame, quickly scooping her off her feet. She let out a surprised laugh that caused him to grin even wider. He kicked the door open and carried her inside. Louis did not set her down until they were in his bedroom. Their bedroom.

“Our bedroom,” he said aloud, sitting on the bed while she quickly attended her hair. “Everything I have is yours, Chérie. The house is Lestat’s, of course. I signed it over to him in eighteen...eighteen....” He waved his hand at the air and fell over backwards on the bed. “Eighteen something!”

Chérie giggled, watching him in the glass. “Eighteen sixty-two. And you sound drunk, Louis.”

He sprang from the bed and slipped his arms around her. “I am drunk. Intoxicated,” he said. “And I pray I’m never sober again.” He pushed her hair aside and kissed the smooth contour of her neck.

“You’re going to get a face full of bristles that way, Monsieur de Pointe du Lac.” She wriggled free. “And as much as I like Lestat’s lukewarm blood, it was hardly a satisfying meal. From the look on your face, now stop that!” she scolded, when he crinkled his nose at her. “You thirst as badly as I do. So, real food tonight before any necking.” She laughed.

Louis’s eyes lighted. “Oh! There’s something I want to show you! You look beautiful, so put down that brush and come with me.”

She took his hand as he led her to the study. The computer was still turned on and a clip of Louis was playing. He grimaced at it as he sat in the chair and pulled her onto his lap.

“How many of these play?” She held up four fingers and he nodded. “Do you know if Lestat knows how to...yes, he does! Watch!”

The sunset clip played. He held her gently so she wouldn’t tip as she leaned forward to watch it. “Oh, my God,” she gasped, grabbing the keyboard and typing passwords fast. She started navigating through folders without using the mouse, something he hadn’t figured out yet, and had soon found the tiny clip. She set up the clip to loop continuously and set it off, dropping the keyboard on the desk.

“That’s my Louis,” she whispered, leaning back against him as he kissed her cheek. “Oh, and look at your hair! My Louis watching a sunset.” She laughed quietly, delighted, and then regarded him curiously. “How ever did you accomplish that?”

“Lestat woke me early this evening, right after he rose, apparently. Before David, if that helps.”

Chérie nodded. “I’m usually up before David. But how, Louis? How did Lestat wake you? I’ve tried dozens of times, and all different manners.”

“Try blood,” he said, a little embarrassed. “It seems you need to slit your wrist to get me out of bed.”

She giggled. “How much?”

“I was asleep, remember?” he teased. “But I think he put a few drops on my lip to get my attention and then gashed his wrist because I remember one sudden mouthful. That was enough to make my arms move, at least.”

Footsteps approached and Lestat sauntered into the room.

“You showed her already?” he said, grinning and sitting in the chair on the other side of the desk.

Louis shrugged. “My first sunset in a couple hundred years? Can you blame me for being a little excited about it?” He smiled. “Thank you, Lestat.”

“Did you shoot this, mon père?

Oui, madame. And edited. And looped in the soundtrack.”

“Shoot! I hadn’t notice there was a soundtrack!” She grabbed the keyboard and turned up the volume. Her brows knitted. “Nice violin work, but I don’t recognize the piece. Where did you get it?”

Lestat shook his head. “Later, ma chère. You have guests, and dances to dance.” He remembered something. “And we need to talk about something important.”

Chérie was confused by the sudden solemnity in his voice. “What is it, Lestat? What’s happened?”

Louis smiled kindly. “Lestat had a little breakthrough tonight at the church.”

Chérie slid out of his lap and was instantly in her maker’s arms. “Oh, Lestat!”

Lestat looked up at Louis, confused, but a smile slowly blossomed over his lips. Louis nodded and smiled, and their maker wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly.

More footsteps approached and Eric came to stand in the doorway. One look at Lestat and his face blanched.

“Maharet will be here in just a moment. She’ll want to see this for herself.” He smiled warmly at the yellow-haired vampire. “It was a beautiful service, Lestat. You did a marvelous job.”

Lestat smiled hesitantly. “Thank you, Eric. I truly appreciate hearing that. Now, exactly what is it that Maharet will want to see?”

“You, Lestat,” Maharet said, stepping around Eric. She smiled at Louis and then Chérie. “My best wishes go out to the both of you. But you know that, of course. If I could bother you for the use of your rooms for a moment, I’d like to have a private word with the master of the house, if it’s all right with him?” She turned to Lestat.

He regarded her skeptically. “There are no chains involved this time, I trust?”

“None at all,” she said.

Lestat nodded his consent to Louis and returned Chérie’s kiss fondly. They were almost at the door to the gallery when Louis whirled and reentered the study, dropping down before his maker and taking his hand tightly.

“Remember what I told you last night, Lestat.” Louis’s voice was earnest. “If you need me, nothing will keep me from coming through that door.”

“Or me,” Chérie said from the doorway, arms determinedly folded across her chest. She, too, had turned back.

Louis looked up at her proudly before turning back to their maker. “Do you see us now, Lestat?”

Their maker had also been watching her proudly, and the same gaze came to rest upon Louis. He drew his fledgling into his arms. “Such children I have,” he whispered. Lestat quickly pushed Louis away and ran his hands over his face. He nodded slowly. “I see you now, Louis. Leave us for a while, it’s all right. But thank you, Louis.” He glanced up. “Thank you, Chérie. Now go, dance!” He laughed.

They took his hands briefly before leaving him, stepping onto the gallery and closing the tall French doors. Chérie leaned against them. Her gaze was deadly serious.

“I’m frightened, Louis.” She shook her head. “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I can’t move very fast for any distance in this dress. You have better mobility. Find David and Gabrielle.”

“Yes, they should be here,” Louis said, nodding, and he immediately set off for David’s rooms. He found Gabrielle chatting with Marius in the sitting room.

“My apologies for simply rushing in here,” Louis said, “but Gabrielle, something happened tonight with Lestat and he may need a show of support. Chérie waits at our rooms. Oh, pardon, but do you know where David might be found?”

Gabrielle was already on her feet. “I believe David was starting a fire in the front parlor.” As Louis turned, Marius rose.

“May I join you, Marquise?”

“Only if you stop calling me that.”

Louis entered the front parlor to find David staring into the little fire in the grate. Daniel sat at the spinet, plucking at the keys.

“David, please forgive my abruptness but Lestat may need our assistance. I must rejoin Chérie at our rooms.” He turned to go.

“Of course, Louis,” David said, following quickly.

“Count me in,” Daniel said, sliding off the bench.

They strode down the hallway to the little gathering at the doors to his rooms. Louis smiled politely and excused himself until he stood before Chérie. She clasped his hands.

“Have you heard anything?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Though Lestat may have laughed a moment ago.” She smiled at Gabrielle and David, who had pressed close.

Louis spoke quietly. “Earlier this evening, Lestat had a minor crisis when he realized exactly how selfless some of his actions have been in recent years, beginning with his making Chérie.”

David nodded. “A complete reversal to how I was made, which he persists in referring to as rape. Absurd, of course.” He shook his head. “So all these changes have been accumulating and he hasn’t seen them? My Lord! That must have been quite a shock!”

“Perhaps,” Louis conceded. “Maharet is speaking with him now. And I don’t need to remind you, David, what their last private interview meant to him. He certainly has not forgotten.”

Chérie sighed, her brows low, frustrated. “And there is another aspect of this, but it is far too complex to explain on the doorstep, as it were.” She gave a tiny shake of her head.

“I have felt this,” said Armand, who had joined them, a hand on Daniel’s shoulder.

Louis nodded once and smiled. “Yes, my friend. This is what you felt. I could not explain at the cathedral, there was no time.”

Armand tenderly touched Gabrielle’s arm. “It is real and it is deep, this is all I know.” He searched her cobalt eyes, something silently passing between them, and she dipped her chin, acknowledging his concern.

The doors opened and Chérie turned as Maharet appeared.

The red-haired vampire beamed proudly. “I am glad to see you gathered in this way. He is fine.”

She met Louis’s gaze and he could feel her happiness. A tremor of relief raced through him.

“He needs to speak with you,” she continued, turning to the others briefly. “Only Louis for the moment.” She stepped back to allow his passage.

Louis hurriedly bent to kiss Chérie. “If anything is amiss, you’ll know it,” he assured her as he slipped inside.

Maharet closed the doors. “You are his confidant, Louis, and it is your strength that has carried him through this.”

They stepped into his study and Lestat rose from his chair as they entered.

“Mon Dieu!” Louis’s hands immediately flew to his mouth. Ghastly red streaks cut line after line down his maker’s cheeks, the blood tears drying, or dried and caking. But in Lestat’s eyes was a fire that burned, an inextinguishable light.

Lestat held out his arms. “Do I look so terrible, mon petit? There was not much I could do because you have my handkerchief.” And he smiled.

Louis felt his connection with his maker as if it were a living thing. The undisguised affection radiating from Lestat matched his own. It magnetized him, as did the wondrous brilliance in his maker’s eyes, and he ventured a step closer. Slipping a hand into his pocket, he pulled Lestat’s handkerchief free.

“No, mon père,” Louis finally said. “You look spectacular.”

A fresh tear coursed down his maker’s face and Louis’s heart broke at the sight of it, stepping quickly to catch it before it fell onto Lestat’s suit. The new dampness aided as Louis gently wiped the tear stains from his maker’s cheek. His lips parted and a sigh escaped him as another fell, leaving a new track down the other cheek.

“It’s quite hopeless, I’m afraid,” Lestat said quietly.

Louis smiled and glanced up from wiping away the tears and was jolted when his eyes met Lestat’s, the blue fire consuming him. Immeasurable gardens, rainbows of light. He felt his maker’s arm hold him fast as his knees buckled, his head swimming.


Lestat blinked, diminishing the fire. He shook his head. “No, Louis. I’m no god. And I’d make a terrible angel, so stop putting halos about my head. I care only about what I want to care about.” He smiled his malignant best. “But I seem to have remembered the face of Heaven, mon cher. And it appears to have a devastating effect. I thought I’d killed poor Maharet at one point. So until I learn to control it, I’m afraid I’m back to dark glasses.” He steadied Louis.

“Where do you keep them?” Louis asked.

“Bottom compartment of my jewelry armoire.”

Armand, he called silently.


He is well. But bring every pair of glasses from the jewelry chest in your rooms.


And beware, my friend.

Louis smiled, feeling Armand’s amusement over the last warning. “They’re on their way,” he told his maker.

“Who?” Lestat asked, curious.

Louis grinned. “Armand.”

His maker laughed, and Louis delighted in the sound of it, so like the peals of bells they had only just heard at the cathedral. “You do have a mean streak, don’t you, Louis?”

“Only a little,” Louis admitted. “And I did warn him.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, just the same,” Lestat said, his strong fingers lightly stroking Louis’s hair. “And I love you, Louis. You spoke of my gifts to you and Chérie, but let me tell you of the gift you have given me.”

He drew his fledgling to the brocaded settee at the far end of the study. As they sat, holding hands, Louis carefully avoided his maker’s face.

“It’s all right to look at me. Louis, I need you to look at me.” He touched his face lightly along his cheekbone. “Look here and you can see the difference in my eyes, without looking at them.” He smiled as Louis dared look up and, seeing the eyes he’d known for centuries, met his maker’s gaze. Lestat’s eyes immediately brightened and Louis quickly turned his head.

But he laughed. “I will be your guinea pig, mon père.

Lestat’s expression was stern. “No, Louis. You and Chérie will leave here tonight, as scheduled.” He smiled as Louis insistently shook his head. “Yes, my precious Louis. I do not make light of it, but in the end, it is simply another power to learn. And I will complete my selfless act without your interference, thank you.” He laughed.

“You have done so many, Lestat.”

“And I have had the most exquisite teacher to guide me,” his maker said, leaning to kiss Louis’s cheek delicately. “Without visions, with only our true silent voices as you called them, you have shown me what no other could. Chérie, of course, has been a blessing. To us both. But you, Louis?” He shook his head gently, his voice growing distant. “A long time ago, any sharp remark from me would silence you. And I regret using this over you. I was a fool, Louis, and I can only hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Done,” Louis said quickly, eager for his maker to continue. He was basking in the abiding warmth, no longer a fragile thing to be skirted. The wonderment filled him as he had not imagined possible.

Lestat grinned. “Sometimes you’re too easy on me, bien-aimé.

Louis smiled and glanced into his eyes. “Another of my many character flaws.”

His maker’s face fell. “Don’t say that, Louis. Please don’t ever say that again. Mon Dieu, this is what I’ve done to you!” Anger dulled Lestat’s gaze.

“Don’t dwell on it, Lestat. That time is past and I can make light of it now because I have survived.”

Lestat nodded, understanding, and his anger faded until only a deep sorrow clouded his gaze. “Louis, everything I ever counted against you was something I envied. Just saying ‘I’m happy in your company’ was impossible for me, and yet it spilled out your mouth as rain from the sky. I loved hearing you say it, but it infuriated me that I could not.” His eyes brightened and Louis lowered his gaze. “And then two years ago, you stopped taking it altogether.”

Louis shrugged. “I needed your help. Only with your strength behind me could I dare face my pain, to feel it all again. There was no choice for me but to risk your anger.”

“Perhaps,” Lestat allowed, nodding. “But after that, you continued ruthlessly expressing every emotion.”

“Opportunity,” Louis said, laughing quietly. “The door had been opened and I knew then that you could no longer hurt me. Chérie’s love gave me the courage to stand up to your barbs and I found I was incapable of loving you quietly anymore.” He sighed deeply. “And finally, I had to know, for myself, if I had indeed been deluding myself all those years about my love for you, and about your love for me. I could not forget that night in the Carmel Valley, Lestat, and the love in your eyes when you saw me. That was a most precious night.”

Lestat nodded. “As it was for me. Why do you think I can’t give up that ranch?” He laughed and kissed Louis tenderly, enfolding him in his arms.

A knock sounded on the door and when they stirred, Maharet waved for them to keep their seats. “You both have much to be thankful for,” she said as she stepped into the sitting room.

Lestat leaned close and whispered, “I don’t know if it will happen again, but watch Armand, his eyes.”

Louis nodded, grinning, and quickly kissed his maker. “I thank God you love me, Lestat.” He rose as Maharet led Armand into the room and his maker stood beside him.

“I am sorry, Louis. We needed a box, there were so many.” He handed the box to Louis and turned to the yellow-haired vampire. “Lestat, are you--”

Armand’s soft brown eyes blazed for one second and then rolled back into his head as he fell unconscious, Lestat hastening forward and catching him effortlessly before he could tumble to the floor.

“Good Lord!” Louis uttered, astonished. He glanced at his maker. “His eyes glowed the same way! The vision is physically passed?”

His maker shook his head as Maharet took the limp form of Armand from his arms. “We don’t know yet. Yours did the same thing. What did you see, Louis?”

“A garden that seemed to go on forever, and the light was as you’d imagine looking through a rainbow. Pastel. Very soft, making everything hazy.”

Maharet had moved Armand to a chair and was checking his breathing.

Louis’s brow furrowed, puzzled. “Was I out that long? It only seemed like an instant.”

Lestat stroked his chin absently. “You didn’t go all the way out. And there was one long moment when you held my gaze without succumbing. It was only later, when you were very close, that it affected you.”

“He’s coming around,” Maharet said, glancing over her shoulder. “Get some glasses on and let’s hope that works.”

Louis handed the box to Lestat and knelt beside Armand. “Easy, my friend,” he whispered as Armand’s eyes fluttered open. Louis smiled when the soft brown eyes seemed to focus on him. He stroked the auburn curls gently and then assisted when his friend tried to stand. “How do you feel, Armand?”

“Fine. What happened?” He glared at Lestat, who had donned a small pair of sunglasses with dark green lenses. Armand took a step closer. “You did this to me?”

Louis could just make out his maker’s eyes behind the heavy tinting. They seemed to grow brighter for a moment and then fade.

Lestat slowly grinned. “I believe we have a winner.”

Maharet seemed pleased. “We can experiment with tinting tomorrow night, but for now it looks as if you’re safe to be set free again.” She held up a hand. “We still don’t know what this will do to mortals, so please be careful, Lestat.”

“Oui, madame,” Lestat said with a tiny bow. He approached Armand. “My oldest friend, I am sorry. Something has changed and we don’t know exactly what yet. But we seem to have found...a solution and....” Lestat fought for words for a moment before he turned impatiently to Louis. “How can you stand this all the time?” He grinned and quickly wrapped his arms around the auburn-haired vampire, lifting and turning him shamelessly. “I love you, Armand! And I’ve been dying to do that all night.”

“Put me down, Lestat!” Armand growled indignantly.

Louis laughed. “Tell him something to make him angry, Armand. It might work.”

Lestat set Armand down without provocation and pointed an accusing finger at Louis. “You manipulated me!”

“Yes,” his fledgling admitted, grinning wickedly. “But we had a wedding to get through. And I have a wife waiting for me now, if you’ve forgotten.”

“Chérie!” Lestat gasped. “Come, Louis!” he said, grabbing his fledgling’s hand. “We’ve detained you long enough.”

Louis laughed as his maker dragged him out through the sitting room and pulled open the French doors. Lestat’s free hand flew to his breast when he saw everyone gathered around the door. Behind the lenses, his eyes fired bright as they quickly shifted from one face to the next.

“We were worried you would never emerge again, mon père,” Chérie said, concern mixing with relief in her smile.

He dropped Louis’s hand and caught her up in his arms, kissing her warmly. “I love you, ma petite.

A hush fell over the remaining vampires, stunned by his open display of affection.

Lestat glanced among their faces, furrowing his brow playfully, a smile curling the corner of his mouth. “What? My daughter marries my son and I’m not allowed to be happy about this?”

A few laughs and conversations restarted.

He set Chérie on her feet, mindful of her gown, and drew Louis forward. “I believe you two know each other,” he teased, placing Chérie’s hand in Louis’s before drawing Gabrielle with him as he pushed through the little crowd toward the back parlor.

Louis kissed his wife and held her close for a moment as David and Marius filed after Lestat. Eric and Daniel disappeared into Louis’s rooms.

“What happened, Louis?” Chérie asked quietly.

“A bigger change than I had imagined. He says he has remembered something he calls ‘the face of Heaven’ and he has sprouted a new ability.” He pitched his voice lower still. “The glasses are a necessity for now. Be careful to avoid his eyes if he takes them off. Armand was out for a full minute.”

Chérie raised an eyebrow. “Wow. What is this new power?”

Louis shook his head. “I don’t know exactly. His eyes become bright and everything starts swimming, though I didn’t fall unconscious. I had a vision but I don’t know if Maharet or Armand did as well.”

She ran her hand down his cheek. “Maharet, too?” She puzzled a moment. “That must have been why he laughed. It probably startled him. We were fine with him only moments before. I’ll bet Eric saw something.” Chérie frowned and shook her head furiously. “We shouldn’t be leaving him now.”

D’accord. But he would not hear of it, not for a moment. That is the other change, what I had seen earlier tonight, his complete ease with his affections. And I don’t believe that’s limited to us. He scooped up Armand a moment ago and declared his love.”

Chérie clamped a hand to her mouth. “Poor Armand! He must have been mortified.”

Louis smiled and nodded. “For now, we should stay close to Lestat. Give him a target for his affections, if he needs one.” He laughed. “Before he scares everyone.” He reached up and smoothed her shimmering brown hair. “Besides, I wish to dance with Madame de Pointe du Lac.”

She smiled up at him, her eyes alight. “You say the sweetest things, mon mari.

He offered her his arm and they walked to the back parlor. The center of the room had been cleared, furniture moved, carpets rolled up. The parlor looked like a tiny ballroom with the chandeliers turned low.

The vampires in the room applauded and the music began as Louis led Chérie to the middle of the floor, turning her quickly so her skirt swirled wide about her ankles, before gently leading her around the room.

She felt perfect in his arms. The silk of her gown, the shine in her hair, the love in her eyes.

“I love you, Chérie.”

“And I, you,” she said softly. “Did you know Lestat was going to do that in the church?”

“What, my love?”

“Pour the wine.”

His eyes went wide. “No, a complete surprise! I almost laughed.”

She smiled. “Strange when you think of it. The Blood of Christ.”

“My God! You’re correct.” A laugh escaped him. “For once, the priest was not speaking from faith alone, though I would not wish that realization upon him.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lestat lead Jesse into the dance. “You should ask the best man about it when he cuts in.”

“I will. I love you, Louis.”

He grinned. “And I love you right back, so there.”

Chérie laughed and he could do no more than smile at the music of it.

“Was it just me or was there something about that chapel?”

Louis smiled. So, she had felt it, too. “Well, once you entered, all I could hear was you. Your silent words, your gown, your heartbeat.”

“Yes, I too could not hear the priest. It must have been the acoustics.” Her blue-gray eyes twinkled.

“Magic,” Louis said and laughed. His mind was a jumble of the events of this magical night. Life was rushing headlong before him and it seemed he could only hang on in euphoric desperation. But Chérie was in his arms. Loving him. And it was perfect.

“May we cut in?” Lestat asked and both couples slowed to a halt. “Merci, Louis,” he said, stepping in to take Chérie’s hands before she could even lower them and gliding her away across the floor.

Louis shook his head and smiled. So much for perfection. He quickly bowed to Jesse before taking her in his arms and slowly turning her.

“You look lovely, Jesse.”

“Thank you for saying so, Louis, but everyone knows where your attentions lie.”

He laughed quietly. “I’m terribly transparent, aren’t I?”

She shook her head. “There’s nothing terrible in seeing two souls so much in love.”

“Thank you, Jesse.” His green eyes filled with mischief. “Now tell me everything you did up there last night.”

“Shame on you, Louis! I should tell you no such thing, but I will, if you’ll tell everything that went on here.” She smiled sweetly, challenging him.

“I can’t do that, I’m afraid. We have a small surprise planned for later and I wouldn’t want to spoil it.”

“You and Lestat?”

Louis nodded. “How does he seem to you, Jesse?”

“Extraordinarily affectionate, but then it is an emotional evening.”

“Yes, it certainly is.”

A smile lighted her green eyes. “So what else did you do last night?”

Louis shook his head sadly. “You will only realize how truly boring I am. Let’s see, after trying to throttle Lestat,” he smiled when Jesse laughed, “we sat and talked for hours. And I practiced my typing. I watched a video of Chérie. We worked on our surprise. Oh! You might find this interesting.”


“David and Marius may have discovered another family among us, though certainly far less grand than your own.”


“Lestat, it seems, may have sired a few offspring in his youth.”

Jesse smiled, and it grew. “Somehow, there’s a certain symmetry in that. I mean, in little over two hundred years, he’s fathered six immortal children.” She furrowed her brow. “And always in matched pairs.”

“Seven at least. But yes, very prolific for our kind,” Louis said thoughtfully. And, if anything, Lestat was more powerful, as were his later fledglings. Another of Marius’ theories, out the window. He smiled wickedly. “Come on, Jesse. You’ve coerced me into sharing some of my evening, so tell me something of yours.”

She laughed. “Oh, all right. I’ll tell you one thing only.”

“What is it?”

Her expression softened. “Chérie cried last night, after you called the second time.” She glanced up at the heartbreak filling his eyes. “She’s so in love with you, Louis. She wouldn’t give up the phone. Chérie just lay there clutching it to her as she wept.”

“I almost crushed the telephone I held as well,” he admitted quietly, then puzzled when Jesse again laughed.

“Then Chérie did the strangest thing.”

“What was that?”

“She made me bring two pillows from the bed. But not to lie on. She tossed out the phone and wedged these two enormous things beside her in the coffin. And that’s how she slept, wrapped around those pillows.”

Louie laughed aloud. “I can’t believe she actually did it!”

“You told her to do this?”

“Guilty, I’m afraid,” he said as the piece ended. He bowed before leading her off the dance floor, rejoining Lestat and Chérie. Another piece had begun. David handed the video camera to Santino and drew Gabrielle to the center of the room.

Lestat glared down his nose at them until Chérie gave his arm a squeeze. He smiled impishly at her. “Yes, I suppose I should be happy just seeing her dance again.”

“She didn’t when you were growing up?” she asked, watching Gabrielle.

“Once, and the occasion eludes me,” he admitted, breaking into a malignant grin. “And I would have thought you’d noticed. I’ve never grown up.”

Chérie laughed and he seemed to delight in the sound. “Oh, Lestat! I’m not fooled for one moment by that boyish exterior.”

Jesse agreed, touching Lestat’s shoulder. “Honey, none of us are! But I need to find Maharet.” She gave him a quick kiss and then gave one to Louis. “Thank you for the dance, gentlemen.”

“Remember, you promised me another,” Lestat warned.

She laughed and nodded wearily. “If you have the presumption to pull out your disc, I’ll dance with you.” She gave Chérie a quick hug. “I’m so happy for you.”

“Thank you,” Chérie said. “Maharet may still be in Louis’s rooms,” she added helpfully.

“Our rooms,” Louis corrected, his smile lighting his entire face.

“You’re going to be impossible about this, I can see,” Chérie said, exasperated. “Our rooms, but only if mon père says so.”

“It’s Louis’s house,” Lestat said with a shrug and drew Louis under his wing. “Whether I hold the title or not, this will always be your home.” He pulled Chérie close. “Both of you.”

Jesse shook her head and laughed. “And I thought Maharet and Eric were strange to watch. You may have them beat.” She quickly nodded and left the parlor.

Louis glanced at his maker, seeing the eyes blaze behind the lenses. “You’re scaring people again, mon père. They will need time to adjust.”

“Yes, Lestat,” Chérie said kindly. “We’ve had two years to see this grow in you.” Her smile was sheepish. “And, I must admit, I’m dying to see your eyes before you send us away.”

Their maker’s lips twisted into a smile. “I was hoping you’d say that. So you shall, but not now.” He drew them closer as he led them from the parlor. “You two must feed,” Lestat said quietly, grinning when the thirst suffused their expressions.

They followed him out of the townhouse and down the curving iron stairs. As they neared the front gate, he hurried ahead and opened the interior door to the laundry room, disappearing inside. He emerged moments later, holding a deep indigo cloak for Chérie. Another was draped over his arm.

“These are a gift from Eric,” Lestat said as he helped adjust Chérie’s hood. He stepped back and admired the effect. “Yes, that covers your gown nicely.”

“It weighs almost nothing!” said Chérie delightedly, turning and watching the woven fleece sweep across the flagstones.

“I thought I recognized the weave,” Louis said, donning its mate.

“Stop fidgeting, Louis,” Lestat chided, fastening the cloak securely before again drawing them close. They strained to hear his words. “Now, children. Two cars were retained because of the crowd.” He smiled at Louis. “Yes, all my fault, of course. Take one of the cars, leave it to await your return, and hunt.”

Louis watched him, expecting some condition.

Lestat shook his head gently. “Hunt however you please.” His gaze shifted from one to the other of his fledglings. “But draw your victims to a place where you will not be disturbed for several minutes afterward. And when you kill, take the heart.”

“But, Lestat, you said--” Chérie began in alarm.

He cut her off. “You are both strong enough to survive it. Take the heart.”

Louis glanced at Chérie and saw his hunger matched in her gaze.

“And then hurry back,” Lestat said brightly. “There is still much to do before dawn.” He pulled open the gate. “Now go!”

The driver of the first car scurried to open the door and they ducked into it safely. The noise of the crowd, still gathered despite the late hour, hushed with the shutting door. The telephone rang as the car began rolling. Louis lifted the receiver.

“City Park. Thank you,” he said, hanging up the phone.

She smiled. “Why that park?”

Louis shrugged. “It’s out of the Quarter, but still a short drive.” He reached inside her hood and smoothed back her hair. “I am envious already of your victim, my love. They will have the most mysterious and beautiful spectre to lead them into their enchanted sleep.” Before she could protest, he smiled and changed the subject. “So, do you like your ring?”

Chérie’s eyes brightened and she gazed into the facets of the perpetually swirling stones. “It’s perfect, my love. What made you think of this?”

“You, of course. Your talk of karma, and things happening in their own time set me reading the Eastern philosophers. And I read about macrobiotics, which you said you’d delved into briefly. I found the concept intriguing, by the way, eating for world peace, though the subject matter naturally made me nauseous.” He smiled when she laughed at his little pun. “But one word rang through all I read, and it struck me how perfectly it fit. Harmony. And it became clear how all the facets of our life together balanced to bring such happiness.” A laugh escaped him. “Lestat’s action and plotting without thinking things through. My pondering every detail but never acting. And how your logic and curiosity made everything whole.”

She smiled. “Yes, even with Daniel. He idolized you and Lestat so completely, but he could relax with me around because I was younger. And how he helped me, with leaving my mortal life. His understanding meant a lot to me whenever the enormity of your lives overwhelmed me.”

“Circles within circles.” Louis sighed and glanced out the window. “Every one I thought of revealed another. Eternal expansion.”

His eyes rolled shut as he felt her strong fingers reach under his hair, stroking his neck. Such intimate touch! “Yes, my love,” he whispered. “We are nearly there.” He turned on the seat to face her, his lips parting at the sight of the hunger filling her blue-gray eyes. Every vein aching for blood.

“Louis,” she whispered, as he pushed her hood back and nuzzled her neck. Or had she simply thought his name? Her vein was drawn and taut beneath his tongue as he lazily traced its path, kissing her. Deep thirst, he felt her heart pound as he let his fingers follow the vein across her shoulder, down her arm, finding naked flesh again at her wrist, her pulse throbbing beneath his touch.

He gasped as he felt her fanged teeth at his throat, teasing, pressing against his elastic flesh but not enough to break the skin. A shudder resounded through his every vein. It was too exquisitely sweet!

The car rolled to a halt and he gave her a lingering kiss before fixing her hood. She pulled his into place as the driver opened the door. Louis stepped from the car and reached back to draw her out behind him. She gazed across the grounds as he quickly explained to the driver that they would take a short walk before returning to the townhouse.

Chérie took Louis’s arm as they set off, walking as mortals walk, quickly at times, steps slowing, stopping to gaze into each other’s eyes, kissing.

They saw the man when he was still distant, lost in thought, staring up at the stars occasionally.

The scent of blood reached out to them, the passion so close.

He’s too large for me, my love, Chérie told him silently.

Your thirst is greater.

Not that great! He is your lover tonight.

As they drew near, they saw he had lighted a cigarette and was smoking it lazily, one hand shoved in his pocket. He turned abruptly when he heard their approach and then smiled, relieved.

Louis smiled kindly and began speaking to the man in French as he stepped closer, gesturing to Chérie who had stopped several paces away. She smiled shyly.

The man’s smile broadened and he shook his head regretfully. “I’m sorry. I don’t speak French.”

Louis appeared puzzled and then gestured to the man’s cigarette, pantomiming smoking, and again to Chérie.

The man grinned. “Ah. A cigarette for the lady?” He dug the pack from his pocket and knocked it against his knuckles. When several extended, he offered the pack to Louis.

“Merci,” Louis said, stepping close, watching as the man’s eyes filled with wonder, locking with his, the jaw going slack. “Merci beaucoup.”

The pack of cigarettes fell by the side of the path.

The man did not resist as Louis took him in his arms, smoothing back his hair, pushing the longer strands behind his ears. He returned Louis’s smile and nodded slightly.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Merci,” Louis said sincerely, his lips seeking out that burning river, feeling its course as the man let out an impassioned moan. The desire crested and Louis sank his teeth through the thin barrier of skin, pressing the length of the man’s body to him, gently so as not to crush his delicate bones. A shudder passed through the mortal flesh as an ecstatic gasp escaped the man’s lips and he spoke no more.

Louis savagely drew the life from the mortal. Wave after wave crossed his tongue and plummeted down his throat. The heat of it radiated through his body, the tingling warmth spreading as the heart pounded out its rhythm in perfect time with his own, locked together in delicious intimacy.

The man quickly weakened and Louis held him firmly when his legs failed, taking ever deeper draughts as his mind filled with the precious images of the man’s life.

As the flow slackened, he drew ravenously to coax the vital blood from the body. The images faded and the alien heartbeat grew, eclipsing his own, pushing against the barriers of his mind, the surface of every vein intensely raw with the approaching wave, the culmination of passion. The rhythm faltered. He fought his own inner warning to pull back, stop, and breathlessly he drew harder still, demanding the last drop as the heart boomed its resounding last.

The stillness was an explosion through his being, rocking him, a silent cacophony, and he was enveloped in its light, pure, white, blinding. And past him it flew, racing, the explosion building upon itself, surrounding him. With a surprising calm, he willed it to stop and he halted at the edge of a great void as the silence roiled about him, caressing his every fiber, his flesh ablaze from within. For an instant, he saw revealed before him, swelling, a vastness of green that was not only green, but every color of creation. The ecstatic wave crashed over him, forcing every breath from his body as the black veil thundered down around him.

Louis collapsed, the body rolling gently from his arms. He could not move, the earthly silence filling him along with the mortal warmth, every cell alive. The soft calls of the night creatures in the nearby bayou filtered back in. Such beautiful songs! He felt Chérie’s touch as she knelt beside him and a shudder passed through him. He heard her rise, the body dragged away, the sounds of digging with preternatural speed. Symphonies. Her touch again finally and he willed his hand to take hers, feeling her immeasurable strength through her icy flesh.

He was rising when he opened his eyes, touching her face, her hair. Alive! Louis surrounded her with his arms, clinging to her.

“God, how I love you, Chérie!” he cried quietly.

“Oh, Louis,” she whispered, snuggled in the folds of his cloak. “You’re so warm!”

His expression melted. How could he forget her hunger! Louis quickly smiled and drew her away. “Come, you must feed, my love.” They rushed ahead, deeper into the park. After only a short distance, they caught the scent of blood and slowed their pace.

It was close, lurking. He could hear the shallow breathing seeking concealment among the old oaks.

Your lover was already marked for death, Chérie told him.

Yes, so it seems.

Walk on, my love, so I am helpless against her.


Cologne. Chérie breathed deeply.

Louis clasped her by the shoulders. “Wait here, my love. I believe I dropped something.” He trotted back the way they’d come.

“Sweet man,” Chérie said aloud to herself. With her left hand, she pushed the hood back and smoothed her hair. Her rings sparkled as she slowly turned.

The thief sprang from the bushes, brandishing a knife. Chérie whirled on the young woman and instantly clamped onto the hand wielding the blade, squeezing the soft flesh until the knife fell to the ground, clattering against a rock. Chérie kicked the weapon towards Louis, who had reappeared on the path only a few paces away. He caught it under his boot.

As Louis bent to retrieve the knife, he watched Chérie draw the thief to her tightly, pinning her close with one arm, leaning to smell the cheap fragrance. Chérie watched, fascinated, the eyes darting away, trying to avoid her fierce gaze, as her free hand moved slowly across the woman’s breast, resting over the pounding heart. Chérie smiled and the thief was lost.

“How long since you got high?” Chérie asked firmly.

“This morning,” the young woman answered, her voice dry.

“On what?”


Concern filled Chérie’s eyes as she pushed the ragged hair away from the thief’s neck. “Drugs kill, dear, but get ready for the rush of your life,” she whispered, hesitating a moment before biting through the soft flesh.

Louis saw the young woman’s hands clutch at Chérie, watched his bride’s breathing lift her shoulders, smelled the blood flowing as she fed. Chérie shifted, breaking the flesh anew and drawing furiously on the wounds. As the thief weakened, Chérie pressed her tighter, lowering herself slowly until the mortal body was like a babe in her arms, her hand again resting over the faltering heart.

So intimate, to watch her feed.

Chérie’s shoulders rose and fell as the back of her victim arched under her pull. The shudder jolted her as the heart stopped, passing through her again and yet again before she pulled free. The lifeless body slid from her lap as Chérie toppled over sideways.

Louis rushed to her side, catching her head before it hit, guiding it gently to the earth, resting it upon her hood. He quickly scanned the area before hefting the dead woman and carrying her back into the undergrowth. He peeled off the filthy denim jacket and arranged the body against the far side of a tree, cradled in the black roots of the ancient oak. Searching the soft undersides of the arms, he found the ugly self-inflicted wounds. He rifled the jacket pockets, pulled free the drug kit, and scattered its pieces beside the body, laying the arm gently in their midst. He dropped the knife in a pocket as he draped the jacket over a tree root. Biting his own finger, he spread the drop of blood over the wounds on the neck and, when they closed, wiped the blood away and then dirtied the clean spot.

Louis closed his eyes briefly. Horse. Heroin. He’d learned the hard way to check his victims for the signs of this and other drugs. Hunting San Francisco had frequently been a dangerous endeavor. How little the drug culture had changed. Such aging in one so young. But it was an often-enough sight in larger cities in recent decades and the cause of death would go unquestioned, unworthy of mention by the press. Yet he mourned her, the loss of her life, the exchange he had chosen so Chérie might live. “Thank you,” he told the inanimate form, though he knew how very trite it sounded.

Chérie had not moved when he returned. Kneeling beside her, Louis again scanned the area. The closest presence he could detect was their driver, lounging against the car and thinking about his breakfast. He smiled, remembering that very different hunger.

He touched his bride’s ruddy cheek, so soft and warm. Her eyes fluttered and opened, and he smiled into their clear blueness. She clasped his arm and allowed him to help her gain her feet, pressing herself to him with a strength that would have crushed a mortal man.

“Oh, Louis!”

He held her tightly and kissed the top of her head. Alive.

“What was that, Louis? It was so beautiful, so tranquil!”

“Tell me what you saw,” he said quietly.

Chérie shook her head, furrowing her brow. “It was like an enormous garden, but it was like looking through a cloud, the tiny drops catching the light in infinite different ways.”

“The face of Heaven,” he whispered.

She stepped away from him in alarm. “What!”

Louis smiled and nodded. “I’ve seen it once before. Tonight, when I was caught in Lestat’s gaze.” He took her hands gently. “We must leave this place. Come, Chérie.”

She walked beside him quietly until they had moved well beyond his concealed victim. Chérie halted and started unfastening her cloak.

“What is it, my love?” Louis asked.

Chérie smiled mischievously. “If my cloak is half as dusty as yours, it needs a good shaking out.”

Laughing silently, Louis began undoing his as well. He shook it gently and picked the few persistent bits from its surface. She finished before him and, as he swung it back over his shoulders and was securing it in place, she circled him, brushing at the cloak every now and again.

“Now your hair,” she commanded sweetly.

Louis bent forward, letting his long black waves hang free and he shook it out, righting himself quickly so the hair all flew behind him.

Chérie’s eyes danced and she had her hands clasped to her mouth.

“There was nothing in my hair, was there?” he asked, suddenly suspicious.

She slowly shook her head. “Not a thing. I just love watching you do that.”

“Imp!” he said and she let out a low shriek as he scooped her up in his arms, turning her and setting off towards the car.

Chérie draped her arms around his neck and leaned up to kiss him. “I love you, Louis.” Her voice lowered solemnly. “That was no vision. We stared at the other side, didn’t we?”

“I believe so, but I won’t know until I speak with Lestat.” He smiled as he continued briskly down the path.

She laughed self-consciously. “You can put me down now, you know.”

He grinned broadly, his eyes ablaze. “Not a chance!”

“You can’t carry me forever!”

“Of course, I can. Do you forget what sort of fiend you’ve married?” He turned her again, kissing her. “You can walk again when we get to the townhouse.”

She laughed and kicked her feet lazily.

Within moments they were back in the car and it was speeding its way towards the Quarter.

As the car crawled through the narrow streets, he felt her eyes on him again.

He smiled. “What is it, my love?”

“You’re plotting something and I can’t figure out what it could be. You’re impossible to read when you’re like this.”

“Thank you, my love,” he said.

The car rolled to a stop and the driver quickly had the door open. Louis pulled the hood back over Chérie’s hair and stepped out. She took his hand and then went before him as he ushered her through the gate.

“I can’t believe they’re still out there!” she said.

Louis strode up beside her, catching her hand again. “Yes, we should make an appearance. Perhaps then they will go.”

“And why exactly are you walking so bloody fast?”

“Exactly!” He laughed. “It’s a fine night to be alive, isn’t it?” Louis lifted her as they passed the fountain, turning her lightly before setting her back on her feet.

“Yes, it is, my love,” she said giggling in delight. “But contain yourself before you frighten the others!”

Louis paused, became very quiet, and bowed slowly while she started up the stairs, shaking her head. He grinned and followed close behind. She opened the door and he held it as they passed inside. The gallery was empty and they crossed quickly to their rooms. He helped her out of her cloak, laying it gently across the bed before unfastening his and placing it beside hers.

He watched a moment while she brushed out her long, brown hair. A smile crossed his lips as she tossed it back over her head. “Yes, I can see the attraction in this.”

She let the tip of her tongue peek out at him and he laughed brightly as he removed his coat, carefully hanging it in his armoire and pausing to brush off a bit of lint.

Chérie caught sight of him in the glass and whirled. “Louis! You’re sparkling! How can one coat cover all that brilliance?”

“Flatterer,” he said teasingly.

She shook her head, her eyes wide in wonder. “No, seriously. I hadn’t noticed before, your....” She furrowed her brow and pointed.

“Waistcoat,” he prompted.

“Right! Waistcoat. Thank you.” She handed him the brush and gingerly touched the tapestry in shiny metallic threads.

Louis closed his eyes at her touch and idly ran the brush through his hair. He had to excuse himself to return the brush to her armoire.

“I could get lost in that for hours,” Chérie admitted.

“Thank you,” Louis said, beaming. “I had hoped it would have that effect.”

“This is your doing?”

He crooked a finger under her chin and closed her mouth. “You’ll catch flies, Madame de Pointe du Lac.”

She shook off a shudder and grinned. “I love how you say that.”

He gathered her into his arms and pulled her close, his green eyes dancing. “Madame de Pointe du Lac,” he whispered. “I love you.”

“And I love you, Louis.”

He kissed her determined lips while his fingers caressed her cheek, her neck, and slid down her arm until their fingers intertwined. He sighed as their lips parted. “Thank you, thank you for being my wife.”

“My beautiful, sweet husband,” she whispered, her hand cradling his warm cheek. “All this has been your accomplishment and, although I could not have conceived being any happier, I am indeed that. Thank you for asking me, my love.”

Louis drew her upright. “You could have told me no.”

Chérie laughed. “Right! Like you could have refused Lestat all those years ago.” She winked playfully.

“Touché.” He smiled. “And now I want to find that self-same Lestat and pick his little brain.” He pressed a thumb to his lips to suppress his laugh.

“Play nice, Louis!”

“And he can’t afford the loss,” Daniel said, peeking through the doors. “Are you decent in there?”

“Daniel!” Chérie said, bounding over to him and wrapping her arms around his waist.

He laid a hand on her shoulder and tipped her chin up for a brief kiss. “You are stunning tonight, Chérie. And you still owe me a dance.” He turned a wicked grin on Louis and gave her a smile. “You know I would have asked you if he hadn’t, and if Armand had stayed dead, of course.”

“Why thank you, Daniel,” she said. “And you shall have your dance, I promise. But we really do need to find Lestat.”

Daniel furrowed his brow playfully. “So I overheard. The odd thing is that Lestat is looking for you. When he asked me to find you, I told him you were still out, but he seemed to know you were back. And here you are.”

Chérie grinned. “‘Radar Love.’”

Daniel laughed.

“And what does that mean?” Louis asked, amused by their ease.

“It was a song from when we were younger,” Daniel said. “About a pair of lovers who had no need for the telephone.”

Chérie extracted herself from Daniel’s arms and took Louis’s hands. “They could sense each other, as we can, my love.”

“Only Lestat isn’t supposed to be able to do that,” Daniel said, leaning against the doorframe.

Louis shrugged. “It must be another kind of magic then. Where is he? I wanted to get the wedding party out on the balcony so perhaps that crowd of mortals would dissipate.”

Daniel’s eyes grew wide.

“What is it?” Chérie asked, concerned.

“That’s why Lestat wanted me to find you. Everyone is already gathered in the front parlor.” He shook his head. “And Eric went out a few minutes ago with the video camera. He’s infiltrating their ranks.”

Louis immediately gestured for Daniel to lead the way and waited for Chérie before following. “We had better finish with this so Eric can get to safety.”

As Daniel entered the front parlor, he stepped aside and extended an arm to the newlyweds. “Monsieur et Madame de Pointe du Lac,” he announced, giving Chérie a wink as they passed. Polite applause broke out.

“How long did he make you practice that, Daniel?” Louis asked, laughing silently.

“Until I got it right.”

“Enough chit-chat,” Armand said impatiently. “Let’s get this vanity done with.”

“Yes, come children,” Lestat said, waving them over.

Louis scowled as they circled the furniture. Lestat was sitting atop his desk, with everything shoved aside. “That’s not a chair, Lestat.”

“Another rule?” His maker grinned gleefully before holding up a hand and springing from the desk. “Okay, Louis. I’m off. Wait!” He quickly returned everything to exactly their proper positions. “Happy now?”

Louis beamed pointedly.

“Good. Now, can we get on with this please, so Armand will stop his infernal pacing?” Lestat drew Louis before him and pushed his fledgling toward the balcony. When Louis hesitated, his maker gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Everyone else knows what to do. Daniel will bring Chérie to you. Now breathe, bien-aimé.” He gave his fledgling another tiny push.

Louis stepped out onto the balcony and crossed to lean both hands on the rail. Applause erupted across the street. And it seemed to grow louder by the moment.

“Good Lord, Lestat,” he whispered. “There must be four dozen of them. Five, perhaps.”

No response.


He turned to find he was alone on the balcony.

“Lestat!” he hissed, spying his maker in the dim interior. Chérie was at Lestat’s side, hands clenched to her lips, a single tear staining her cheek.

“That’s all for you, Louis,” his maker said softly. “They’ve all come to see you. Turn around and look at them.”

He did, if only to get it over with, and the noise increased. He heard his name called repeatedly, affectionately, and he covered his mouth with one hand.

“Get out here, Lestat. Please.”

Relief spread through him as his maker’s firm grip enveloped his shoulder. Lestat handed him his handkerchief just as a tear spilled down Louis’s cheek.

Lestat stayed behind him, just over his left shoulder. “It’s all right, Louis. It’s all right,” he whispered, leaning against his fledgling. He gestured toward the French window.

Daniel stepped onto the balcony, his arm around Chérie. As they neared the rail, Daniel placed her left hand in Louis’s right and stepped aside. He passed along the balcony, behind Louis, until he leaned against the post to Lestat’s left.

Chérie’s hand trembled in Louis’s as she looked up at him. He met her gaze and his own fear vanished. He gathered her into his arms and pulled her close. Stroking her hair, he tipped her chin up and gently dried her tears before covering her lips with his, relishing the taste of her as the crowd of mortals cheered loudly. Louis smiled as their lips parted and she seemed lost in his eyes for a moment before she laughed.

“This is terrifying, Louis,” she whispered. “It’s never like this at sunset.”

“See if you can find Eric,” Jesse suggested, suddenly at her right.

“Just don’t give him away,” Maharet warned from beside Jesse.

Louis saw more movement and turned to see Armand join Daniel. The younger vampire draped an arm over his maker’s shoulder and kissed him quickly. A smile, perhaps, crossed Armand’s face as they heard his name pass among the mortals.

“I believe they too are happy you are among the living, my friend,” Louis said.

“So it seems,” Armand said, nodding.

Lestat nudged Louis’s arm. “Show them the rings, wave, and we’re out of here.”

Louis nodded and turned to smile at Chérie. They held up their ringed hands, interlocked, and smiled at the crowd. Together they gave a quick wave and turned from the rail. Louis draped his arm around Chérie as they reentered the flat. They collapsed on the divan with an enormous sigh of relief and watched the others quickly file in.

David came to stand behind them and gave Chérie’s shoulder a pat. “How are your nerves, my dear?”

“Shot. Completely shot.” She laughed and touched his hand. “Thank you, David.”

Lestat was the last one off the balcony, pushing the French windows closed behind him. He grinned. “Well, that was fun. But I suggest we kill the lights in here and vacate the room.” He clapped his hands together. “The next show is in twenty minutes, in the back parlor.”

As everyone started leaving, he drew a chair before Louis and Chérie, signaling for them to wait. When all were gone, he smiled at Louis.

“Light a candle, will you please?”

Louis grinned and lifted a candlestick from the table before him. He passed his hand over the wick and it flickered to life. Smiling innocently, he offered the candle to Lestat.

His maker waved it away. “Just set it on the table. Insufferable show-off!” Lestat laughed softly and for a moment, it seemed as if he’d found something new in Louis’s face. “Making light from light,” he murmured before quickly touching Chérie’s hand. “He’s better than me at one thing and he flaunts it.”

Suddenly the room lights went out. Lestat grinned smugly.

“Enough of this, you two!” Chérie scolded, shaking her head as she laughed. “You could one-up each other all night. What is it, mon père?

He leaned forward anxiously. “Did you do it, take the heart?”

Louis’s gaze narrowed. “First, tell us how you knew we were back in the house.”

Lestat shrugged. “Scent of blood. You both reek of it.” His grin returned. “And your driver has a very relaxed mind.”

“Yes,” Louis said, settling back on the divan. “We did as you suggested.”


Louis furrowed his brow. “And what, Lestat?”

Deep disappointment clouded his maker’s face.

Chérie smiled. “Don’t play with him, Louis.”

“I’m allowed!” Louis protested. “He’s been keeping this secret for how many years?” He turned to his maker. “God in Heaven, Lestat. Yes, God in Heaven, precisely! How could you keep this from me?”

“You weren’t strong enough, Louis.”

“Bullshit, Lestat!” Louis leaned forward, fury in his eyes. “And what made me stronger tonight than, say, last week? Or how about two years ago? Hmm? What, Lestat? Please tell me, because I’d truly like to know.”

His maker sat motionless, arms draped over his knees. Slowly his head bowed. “You know why,” he said quietly, his words measured. “I’m secretive. I never play all my cards.”

“Not with me! Not any more!” Louis held up a hand. “Not about our powers. How can I protect you if I don’t know everything? How can I protect Chérie, or myself?”

“I’m sorry, Louis,” Lestat whispered.

“What?” The quiet apology shouldn’t have startled him, but it had. Louis took a deep breath and gathered his maker’s hands into his. “Lestat, every power you have, you have shared with us. How can we know this new gift will not manifest itself in us as well? We need to be prepared for it.” He sighed. “Lestat, I love you. This certainly doesn’t change that. You will always be my hero, my champion. My maker.” He turned his head and then slowly smiled, his voice growing faint. “Yes, the elder brother I never had.”

A blood tear splashed on Louis’s hand. He carefully drew the precious drop to his lips and felt the tingle rush through him when he sucked up the tear. He pulled a fresh handkerchief from the pocket of his waistcoat and handed it to his maker. “I believe I have again soiled yours, my beloved.”

A smile curled Lestat’s lips as he took the square of linen. “You would think I’d have learned by now to carry two.”

Louis slid off the divan, dropping softly to one knee before his maker. He raked his fingers through the lustrous yellow hair and drew Lestat close. “Keep your secrets about how much stronger you are, but I need to know how it works. Please don’t shackle me in ignorance again.”

“I’ve been planning to tell you this for months, but then it became apparent you wouldn’t feed until tonight.” Lestat crushed his fledgling in his arms. “I am sorry, Louis.”

“I know, Lestat,” Louis said. “And I know that after tonight, things are different. But don’t you see? You’re not alone with your gifts anymore. We want to stand beside you and face whatever comes. You never need be alone again, unless that is your choice.”

Lestat sighed and whispered low in his ear, so low Chérie could not possibly hear. “I’ve been your protector a long time, Louis. I don’t know if I can stop now.”

Louis pressed his lips to his maker’s ear, burying his face in the soft yellow curls, matching his tone. “I still need your protection. We both need it now.” He smiled. “From your glorious temper, and from the handful of things that can yet kill us. But you’ve made me strong enough to be your friend forever, Lestat. If you can tolerate me.” He pulled back and smoothed the hair from his maker’s face.

“My beloved friend,” Lestat said quietly, gently kissing his fledgling’s lips.

“As you are to me. ‘To the last syllable of recorded time,’” Louis said, smiling.

“‘And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death,’” Lestat continued, laughing. It was after all his favorite passage from Macbeth.

So many times they had recited these words! Louis’s smile grew as he watched his maker’s eyes shining bright and steady behind the tinted lenses. “Tell us what it’s like to see through your eyes now. Please, Lestat.”

His maker straightened in his chair, only to immediately lean forward and offer the handkerchief to Chérie, who was desperately trying to keep the tears off her gown.

“You two,” she said, laughing as she dried the tears, her voice liquid.

Louis slid back onto the divan and gently placed an arm around her. “I raised my voice. I’m sorry, my love.”

“Don’t be silly, Louis. Loud noises don’t frightened me.”

Lestat grinned. “I have been known to make one or two that would, Chérie.” He turned his lensed gaze on Louis. “You had a question?”

Louis smiled. “Would you tell us, please?”

“Maharet didn’t ask. Armand didn’t ask. Only my Louis, my precious Louis, worries about me and how I might see something.” He shook his head in wonder. “You saw the same vision when you took the heart? You felt the whirlwind?”

“That was your whirlwind?”

His maker nodded.

“Yes, that and then the garden again,” Louis said. “But Chérie described the light far better.”

Lestat turned to Chérie and waited.

“Like seeing through a cloud, the light refracting in each drop, casting infinite colors,” she said softly.

Their maker nodded. “Yes, that’s very accurate. Merci, Chérie, for when this happens, that is how I see. As if looking through a cloud, but its mist is not the least hazy. Everything is clear, illuminated, though the light is not harsh or glaring. Soft.” He shook his mop of blond curls and sighed. “It’s difficult to describe. If I concentrate, I can see an infinite number of colors, more than even we see, and that’s what makes it seem softer and yet clearer, more precise.” He shrugged.

Chérie furrowed her brow. “Do you see normally, though? Your vision isn’t obscured?”

Lestat smiled. “I don’t see the vision, as Louis did, ma petite.” His eyes burned behind the glasses and he leaned forward to gingerly touch her cheek. “I see you, Chérie. And you shine so brightly.”

“It sounds remarkably like the difference between mortal and vampiric sight,” Louis ventured. “Brighter, more intense.”

“Yes, to some extent,” his maker conceded. “But you’ve tried to describe that difference, so you know the inadequacy of words.” A laugh escaped him. “And the worst horror of this is that it seems tied to love. It was when Maharet confronted me on what you so casually called my little breakthrough, and I felt that humiliating love for her, that this happened. She promptly keeled over.”

Louis laughed aloud.

His maker covered his mouth with one hand to stifle a laugh. “Yes, humorous now, but mon Dieu! I thought I’d killed her.”

“Your love can’t kill us, mon père.” Chérie smiled. “Now show me, as you promised.”

Lestat was instantly serious. “Are you certain, Chérie? Both Maharet and Armand lost consciousness.” He grinned at Louis. “Armand far longer.”

“But not Louis,” Chérie pointed out. “And we are more nearly equal.”

Louis took her hand. “You have greater powers than I.”

She glanced at him, challenging. “In love? And how do you gauge such a thing, Louis? You are closest to our maker’s heart and you know that.”

Lestat grinned. “This is like arguing degrees of goodness with Armand. Louis, hold her, just in case.” He took Chérie’s hand and squeezed it. “I love you dearly, ma petite, I’ve never hidden that from you. And you’ve seen this vision, so I do not believe you will be harmed.” He sighed. “And it is the only vision I have to give you, my impossible fledglings.”

Louis furrowed his brow. “The exchange of blood?”

Lestat shook his head. “Your vision, or simply shared memories. Somewhat enhanced with me between you, but little more.” He touched the satiny skin over his cheekbone. “Here, Chérie. From here, you can see the difference without looking into my eyes. Look only if you wish it.”

He lowered his head and, eyes closed, slid the sunglasses off his face. Still looking down, he blinked a few times before slowly raising his head.

Louis watched as Chérie searched their maker’s face, a smile on her lips. He glanced at Lestat and saw the blue-gray eyes that had always captivated him. Then they grew brighter, and Louis returned his attention to Chérie, whose lips had parted, her own eyes taking on the same shimmering radiance, the same fiery blue. Her pulse had quickened but her breathing remained even, showing no signs of losing consciousness. He was alarmed when she rose from the divan, approaching Lestat.

Their maker accepted her into his arms and allowed her to sit upon his knee as she steadfastly held his gaze. Louis knelt at their feet, close beside Chérie.

“Oh, Lestat,” she murmured. “It’s so beautiful. You were in this place?”

Lestat swallowed and spoke quietly. “Yes, Chérie, and beyond. This is not Heaven, but just before its gates. The Garden of Waiting. Can you see the people, the souls?”

Puzzlement filled her face and then the smile bloomed. “It’s not a mist!” Her fingers touched his lips and he kissed them. “And it’s not water I hear, is it?”

Lestat smiled. “What does it sound like?”

“Like laughter, but singing laughter.” She shook her head gently, confused.

“The sound of joy, it comes from beyond.” Lestat sighed, a tear spilling down his cheek. He blinked.

Chérie pushed the handkerchief into his hand and threw her arms about his neck, clinging to him. Her shoulders shook and she held his head against hers.

Lestat sniffled and dried his eyes. And then he began laughing.

She pushed away from him and cupped his face in her hands, her laughter openly joining his. He wiped the tears from her eyes before pressing the handkerchief into her hands, his smile filling his face, and then he crushed her to him again.

“It’s real,” Lestat cried in a whisper. “Oh, dear God, it’s real!” His eyes lowered, he reached out for Louis, urging him into his embrace. “Oh, Louis! It’s not all meaningless.”

The powerful arm surrounded him as Louis touched Lestat’s hair. Turning to Chérie, he caught his maker’s eyes. They instantly flared, faster than he could look away. The swimming sensation engulfed him.

“Hold it, Louis!” Lestat implored. “Hold onto it!”

He felt their arms around him, but his vision was filled with light. Blinding, like the sun, yet he knew it wouldn’t harm him. And the very flowers of the garden seemed to laugh. Enormous blooms unlike anything he’d seen, in colors he couldn’t name, laughing with Lestat’s laughter! And others, there were others, unseen but adding to the song. The feeling the sound sent racing through him, distant yet passionate, so like the moment of the kill, yet.... Everything dimmed, a dark veil falling.

Lestat blinked and a jolt shot through Louis. He collapsed against the hardness of his maker’s body. He flexed his fingers slowly, the smoothness of Lestat’s back solid beneath his touch. “Real,” he whispered, looking up at his maker in awe. “My God, Lestat.”

Glasses safely in place, Lestat grinned at him. “It’s in the blood, Louis. Chérie’s made with it. You’re filled with it.”

Chérie gasped. “Armand! And Daniel.”

“They may develop this in time,” Louis ventured.

“Perhaps,” Lestat allowed. “But what of Maharet? There may be a connection with this other awareness.” He shook his head. “Of course, there’s the possibility that all that can develop is a tolerance for this vision. You’ve seen this place only from afar.”

Louis furrowed his brow. “And how are you with this, Lestat?”

His maker grinned mischievously. “Like you, staring at my buttons.”

Louis laughed and carefully stood, ensuring his legs would hold him before releasing his maker’s shoulder.

“Yes,” Lestat said brightly. “It will take time to sort this out and we have guests.” He set Chérie on her feet and rose.

She slipped an arm around each of their waists. “Now, what is this next show you spoke of, Lestat?”

Lestat grinned at Louis, who pressed a finger across his lips.

“A surprise, my lovely wife,” Louis said, returning his maker’s grin. “Come, and you shall see.” He flipped his hair back over his shoulders as he turned and led them from the room.

Chérie squeezed Lestat. “I love it when he does that.”

“And he has no idea what effect it has on us.” Lestat sighed.

They giggled as they followed down the long gallery, watching Louis’s black waves swish with each stride.

“Stop sniggering, you two,” Louis admonished, laughing.

As they swept into the back parlor, the music abruptly halted.

“I apologize for the delay, my friends,” Lestat announced as he crossed the room to where Gabrielle sat. “Mother,” he said affectionately, bending to kiss her hand before drawing her to her feet. He scooped up her chair as he led Gabrielle to the center of the room, holding the chair for her as she again sat.

Louis bowed before Santino. “Thank you for coming. I hope this hasn’t been a dreadful bore for you.”

The black eyes smiled up at him. “Not at all. It’s been an entertaining evening, to say the least.”

“I’m glad of it,” Louis said sincerely. “But if I may bother you for your chair, we have a little something planned.”

“Of course.” Santino rose and stepped aside.

“Merci, mon ami,” Louis said before picking up the chair and striding to where Chérie stood confounded. He caught her about the waist and drew her beside Gabrielle, setting down the chair and guiding her onto the seat.

“Oh, you are in a mood, aren’t you?” Chérie asked, her eyes sparkling in delight.

“This is for you, Chérie,” he said, kneeling before her and pressing her fingers to his lips. He turned to Gabrielle and smiled. “And a little for Nicki, I suspect.” He glanced up at his maker.

Lestat grinned. “You know me too well, I think.” He turned and waved everyone forward. “Come, please. Bring your chairs.” He yanked Louis to his feet and threw an arm across his shoulders as he led him to the harpsichord. “Light your candles, mon cher, and I’ll do the chandeliers,” he whispered. “Give them something to wonder about.”

Louis smiled. “By your command, my liege.”

“Don’t give me that crap!” Lestat hissed, laughing. Loving it.

The chandeliers winked off and then the row of candles across the harpsichord burst into flame, one after the other, except for the last. Louis passed his hand over the wick and it caught.

“There’s always a stubborn one in the bunch,” he said. Louis heard Daniel’s knowing laugh near the armoire. He blushed and smiled simultaneously. For one moment, he’d forgotten himself.

“Show-off.” Lestat giggled and the chandelier over his head blazed to life, creating a pool of light around them. He opened the violin case, quickly preparing the bow and drawing it across the strings a few times.

Louis calmly composed himself at the harpsichord, flexing each of his long fingers in turn. Ignoring the sudden wave of anxiety, he focused on his maker, hearing his pounding heartbeat, feeling his excitement and allowing it to wash over him. Yes, losing himself, allowing his connection with Lestat to fill his senses.

Their eyes met and Louis nodded. “Let’s play.”

Lestat grinned, the violin poised. He whirled on Chérie, drawing the bow across the strings silkily, opening the largo, the sultry quality of the music contrary to his energetic approach. Louis matched him, the harpsichord filling out the melody in place of the missing string section.

Chérie looked puzzled and then her hands flew to her mouth, recognition flooding her eyes as the violin hit its first solo. Lestat winked as he caressed the strings with the bow. Her eyes shifted to Louis as the harpsichord took the lead momentarily.

Lestat rose, eyes closed, lost in the music, and crossed to stand beside Louis, playing for him as the piece demanded harmony between the two instruments. Louis’s smile was warm under his maker’s attention.

The music changed, the harpsichord leading and the violin responding until they again met and played in tandem.

Back and forth they went, harmonizing, standing alone, complementing. The violin peaceful, the harpsichord joyous.

Lestat meandered from Gabrielle to Chérie to Louis, playing for each as the music suited.

Chérie seemed spellbound as Louis and Lestat played out the piece, the harpsichord dancing around the violin, beguiling it into an ecstatic declaration before the music softly faded. She pressed Louis’s handkerchief to her eyes as the gathering applauded.

Louis rose from the instrument and embraced his maker. “You were splendid, Lestat.”

“Only because you were playing with me, Louis,” Lestat whispered, squeezing him tightly. “I finally had you beside me on stage. And for once, you loved it as much as I did.”

“Yes,” Louis admitted. “I loved being beside you.” He pulled back to see the affection in his maker’s eyes as he stroked the yellow hair. “But I’ll never be the performer you are, my beloved. You and Chérie give me all the approval I’ll ever need.”

They kissed warmly on both cheeks. Lestat hastily set the violin in its case as the light again rose in the chandeliers and then they joined Chérie and Gabrielle.

Louis drew Chérie to her feet and twirled her.

“Oh, Louis! That was beautiful!” She turned to her maker. “Both of you, really.”

“I concur,” Gabrielle said, rising. “There was more than vampiric ability in evidence. You both played with true feeling.” She ran the back of her hand down her son’s face and allowed his embrace, returning his kisses. “Nicolas never played with such love, Lestat.”

“Thank you, Mother,” he said, beaming when he coaxed a smile from her. “And now I have one last surprise for Chérie.”

Lestat rested his hands on Louis’s shoulder. “I said I would do this in my own retiring fashion and, mon Dieu, that’s exactly what I’m doing.” He smiled warmly and took Chérie’s hand. “My apologies, ma petite. I have little energy remaining for a flashy announcement, when it is only you I truly wish to impress.”

Chérie pressed his tanned fingers to her lips. “It’s little wonder with all you’ve been through tonight, mon père. You have no need of pretense with me, not ever.” She smiled and warmed his hand against her breast.

Merci, Chérie. You again live up to your name. I wanted to tell you of your honeymoon. From Armand comes the use of one of his jets, which will fly you to the South of France. There you will spend the season in a very private villa on the Côte d’Azur, with lots of clean, crisp--”

Chérie engulfed him in her arms. “France! Oh, Lestat, I am impressed!” She reached up and drew his face to hers, kissing his lips, stroking his cheek. “It’s simply perfect.” Her brow furrowed. “But how long is this season?”

Lestat shrugged. “Until the weather chills.”

Her eyes grew wide. “That’s months! Whatever will we do without you all that time? Who will make us laugh so?”

He held her close and sighed. “Such children I have. You will amuse each other, Chérie. You have never been out of the country, no?” He smiled as she shook her head. “Well, all of Europe will be at your doorstep. And Louis can show you everything.”

Chérie turned to regard her husband suspiciously. “And why does not Louis seemed surprised?”

“My fault, Chérie,” Lestat said quickly. “I’m afraid I blurted it out earlier and he has patiently awaited my announcement.”

Louis smiled. “Lestat is yet again being generous. He of course said I might tell you immediately, but I wanted him to have the pleasure of telling you himself, and for you to hear it from his own lips.”

“My husband is wise as he is beautiful,” she said.

Louis blushed.

Lestat laughed and took Gabrielle’s hand, smiling. “Now I must insist you dance with me, Mother.” He bowed cavalierly as Mozart filled the parlor.

Louis smiled as he watched mother and son glide across the floor. He lifted the two vacant chairs and carried them nearer the wall. He turned to see Chérie watching her maker and his mother.

“Le Marquis et la Marquise de Lioncourt,” he said quietly, stepping up behind his bride and softly holding her shoulders.

“Yes, the title became his when his father died, didn’t it? Even as the seventh son.”

Louis smiled. “William Shakespeare would have had a grand time with that particular transfer of power.” His gaze was suddenly far distant. “I wonder if Lestat ever reacquired his ancestral holdings. The remains of the castle stood as late as a decade ago.”

“When he’s like this, it’s easy to see. The provincial lord.” Chérie smiled fondly. “But sometimes, when he’s lounging about in tee-shirt and jeans, it’s just there in his face suddenly and it startles me.” She shook her head. “I’m so proud of him sometimes, simply for surviving. I see him lying in my second-hand chair, watching a movie, and I’m struck by it. He frequented the Palais Royal, for goodness’ sake, and knew Marie Antoinette by sight! How ever can he be as happy as he seems to be in my drab little house?” She glanced back at Louis. “I can’t imagine what it takes to make that leap.”

Louis shook his head. “I had a far lesser distance to travel. My love, let’s try to find his home when we’re in France.” He smiled broadly. “For grins and giggles, if nothing else.”

Chérie laughed. “Yes, I like the sound of that, Louis.” She smiled up at him. “And I’d like to see where you were born.”

“That may take some work, Chérie. I don’t remember France from my childhood.” He smiled. “But we may be able to trace it through the land grants. Oh, and about your little house? Lestat has gone from wallpaper straight to renovation.” He leaned close. “I tried to suggest he consult you, but he seemed of a mind that you were well aware of his interpretation of wallpaper.”

“Well, he’s correct, to a certain degree. I really didn’t think he’d be content with hanging paper, but I had thought he’d stop with replacing and rearranging every stick of furniture.” She sighed. “And I prayed he wouldn’t do everything in Louis XV. This is lovely, but who could walk around barefoot amongst all this?”

Louis smiled. “Where do you wish to live when we return?”

“Wherever you are, my love.”

He bent and kissed her cheek. “That’s too bad, because I wanted to live wherever you were.”

She laughed. “Did you ever restore your little house uptown? Because that sounded wonderful, even with the garish red chair. Single candle, stacks of books. Just my style.”

“Don’t forget the leaky shutters.” Louis smiled. “He dramatized the incident, you realize. The house still stands, surrounded in honeysuckle, not covered in Queen’s Wreath. Freud would love that bit of poetic license. There was a leak in the roof over that room and as damp as it was, the fire never really caught, damaging only a few books and that awful chair.” He laughed and shook his head. “Now, he did vomit on the carpet, though it was not Mojo who cleaned the filth. I never could understand why he thought that such a romantic image.”

“I’d like to see that house sometime.”

“As soon as we get back, my love. Now that the book is done and the wedding carried out, we’ll have time to see everything. At our own pace.”

She sighed contentedly. “I love you, Louis.”

“And I love you right back, Chérie.”

“So I’m stuck with you, am I?”

“Forever, my love.”

“Thank God.”

She leaned back against him and Louis wrapped his long arms around her. They stood silently watching the Lioncourts gracefully circle the floor until the piece ended.

Lestat bowed to Gabrielle and pressed her fingers to his lips. She bowed in return, though it was the barest nod of her head. As she left the parlor, Lestat approached them.

Chérie laughed, quietly amazed. “Do you see what I mean? He commands the room, simply by crossing it. The way he holds his chin as he turns his head. Bearing, carriage. And if he is supposedly rustic, how then did the courtiers in Versailles move?”

Louis smiled and kissed the top of her head. “So strange to hear my own thoughts echo back to me. I’ve pondered the same questions since reading his autobiography. Though I too could see his grace, especially in matters of hospitality, my estimation of him was woefully inaccurate.” A tiny laugh escaped his lips. “Perhaps I am the bourgeois planter he pictures.”

“I believe he admires this in you, Louis. He speaks so mockingly of himself, as of a fraud living in fear of discovery. You have class that cannot be measured, my love.”

He laughed. “Only you could tell me such a thing and have me feeling good about it. Merci, Chérie.”

“C’est mon plaisir, Louis.”

Lestat smiled wickedly. “And what pleasures is he giving you so publicly, ma chère?

“You’re as impossible as ever, Lestat,” Louis said warmly.

“Thank you, Louis,” Lestat said, raising an eyebrow in amusement. “Now, seriously. You two were the perfect picture of bliss standing here like statues. What were you speaking of?”

Chérie smiled. “Houses. We were discussing where to live upon our return.”

Lestat looked genuinely crushed and gestured expansively to the home surrounding them. He snatched up her hand and held it to his breast, pleading in his eyes behind the heavy tinting.

“Oh, Louis!” Chérie cried, fingers covering her lips. “Please help me, because that is just too sweet.”

Louis laughed. “Yes, a superior display. We haven’t jumped off that bridge yet, Lestat.”

“Well said, my love,” Chérie said, glancing back at Louis before turning her smile on her maker. “And I understand you have renovation in mind for my poor, defenseless house?”

“You’re no fun, Louis!”

Chérie ignored him. “Just tell me, Lestat. Will it be finished by our return?”

Lestat stared at her expectantly, the traces of a smile curling his lips.

Chérie grinned and sighed. “Yes, you may have your way with my house, if that’s what you desire. But!” She held up a finger sternly. “There’s a challenge, if you’re up to it.”

Up went the eyebrow and he knitted his arms across his chest. “Give it your best shot, sweetheart.”

“Casual, Lestat. You know me well enough and I trust you in this. But I need to walk around barefoot in my own home.” Her smile softened. “One exception. You must do a room for yourself, in whatever manner pleases you.”

Lestat pulled her from Louis’s arms, lifting and turning her. “Thank you, Chérie!” He regarded her quizzically. “And what was your challenge?” He winked and quickly kissed her.

Surprise crossed his face when she slipped her arms inside his coat and pulled him closer. Her hands pressed his body tightly against hers as her fingers moved over his hardened flesh beneath the velvet. Desire filled their gaze.

“Go ahead,” she whispered. “Ravish my house. I shall enjoy every one of your embraces.”

Her eyes were on his lips as they parted and drew near her own mouth, dimples deepening along with his smile. But there would be no completing the kiss.

“Hey! Isn’t this my dance?” Daniel protested, as he and Armand joined them.

The piece that had been playing ended and Daniel quickly extracted Chérie, laughing in delight, from her maker’s grasp and pulled her toward the center of the room.

Several groans were heard as Lestat’s The Dance of les Innocents came through the speakers. Daniel laughed and Chérie kept time with him as they moved in the free-form dance of the late twentieth century.

Lestat grinned. “You’ll excuse me Louis. Armand.” And across the parlor he scampered, catching up Jesse and literally carrying her out under the chandeliers, twirling her as he had on that stage more than a decade earlier.

Louis laughed aloud and leaned close to Armand. “Something about this sight defies all comprehension, my friend.”

“I would say it appears primitive, but it is remarkably similar to the sabbat in Rome, and I have seen many of those.”

“Indeed. I would be loathe to label myself a primitive, as well,” Louis teased. “But it’s amusing to observe someone Lestat’s age contorting with a group of fledglings.”

Armand waved his hand dismissively. “Envy or prejudice on your part. Lestat is, of course, physically the youngest one out there.” He turned and smiled. “But you have always had a talent for seeing past outward appearance. And I believe we were born old, Louis, you and I.”

“Perhaps,” he conceded. “Armand, tell me what you saw when you looked into Lestat’s eyes tonight.”

Armand’s face blanked as he studied Louis.

Louis smiled. “You have my word, I will tell you what I saw, as well.” His smile grew wider. “Both times.”

“Twice, Louis?” Armand touched his arm. “You met his eyes again?”

“Unintentionally.” Louis shrugged. “Now tell me, my friend.”

“It was only for a moment, Louis, before everything went black and then you were hovering over me.”

“But before the blackness descended?”

Armand shook his head. “It was far too hazy. A landscape, perhaps. And a waterfall, I believe, but this I may have heard.”

Louis nodded. “Yes, that is what I saw, though I did not lose consciousness. But I’m certain that is only because Lestat broke whatever contact had been made.” He smiled. “I saw a vast garden, but it was as if through a rainbow, I thought. The second was different, more detailed, and I heard your waterfall, but it was laughter. And I sensed others there, unseen but felt.”

“Why more detailed?”

“I held his gaze longer. Lestat and Chérie were supporting me. The first was as with you, a quick glimpse, and contact was broken when Lestat kept me from falling, as he caught you, my friend. The second, I believe he waited until he saw the blackness come upon me before he blinked.”

Armand puzzled a moment. “Chérie has seen this?”

“Yes. She petitioned Lestat to show her.”

“And the fool did it.”

Louis smiled. “But he was correct. Chérie did not lose consciousness and she held his gaze a long time, even discussing the vision with him as she beheld it.”

“But what is this vision?”

“I know what Lestat believes, but that is not mine to reveal, Armand.” Louis ran his hand down the tanned cheek. “Lestat will tell you gladly, I suspect, if you ask him.”

“And what do you believe, Louis?”

Louis’s smile was warm, filled with affection for the auburn-haired vampire. “I believe as Lestat believes. I can find no reason to doubt him in this.” He absently stroked Armand’s hair, so radiant and soft. “Stay with him a few days longer and learn what you can, my friend. This may be in the blood.”

Armand’s soft brown eyes grew large, but before he could again speak, the song ended.

“Hey, hands off!” Daniel commanded breathlessly as he rejoined them, Chérie on his arm. He promptly laughed.

“So protective, little one,” Armand said, the desire in his voice concealed in his face.

Louis grinned and bowed decorously. “My apologies, Daniel,” he said, welcoming Chérie’s embrace. “Forgive my indulgences.”

“Of course,” Daniel said, but he moved behind Armand and slipped his arms around him. Snuggling close to kiss the tanned cheek, he whispered, “As long as you remember, he’s mine.”

Armand smiled. “Yes, my beloved. But you must excuse me so I may dance with the bride. The hour grows late.” He allowed another kiss before gently taking Chérie’s hand.

She glanced at Louis.

He smiled and nodded. “Armand is correct, the hour is late. Dance, my love.”

Chérie smiled at Armand, only slightly taller than she in her heels. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask. My neck is sore from dancing with these vampires with did you say it of Daniel?”

Armand smiled. “Twentieth-century height.”

“Yes, precisely,” she said. “It can be annoying at times.”

Louis laughed silently. Neither Armand nor Chérie were short, and the fact that most of their height was in their long legs made them seem taller still. He had never considered himself tall until Lestat continually described him as such. He glanced at his adopted fledgling.

Daniel’s eyes were fixed lustily on Armand and he grinned sheepishly when he noticed Louis’s gaze upon him. “He loves it when I do that.”

“I can see how he might,” Louis said. “There is a certain satisfaction in it for you as well, I suspect.”

Daniel absently ran his tongue over his fanged teeth. “I don’t kiss and tell, remember?”

Louis laughed aloud.

They watched Armand and Chérie dance. She leaned close and then drew back, smiling, nodding, her lips moving. Louis shook his head in familiar astonishment. Armand was not the easiest creature to call friend, the continual questions, the often impenetrable pretense, yet Chérie seemed to pass right through these barriers.

Lestat, who stood talking with Santino and Eric, swiveled and exchanged words with Armand briefly as he and Chérie passed.

Daniel furrowed his brow. “Armand has been watching Lestat tonight. Is there anything I should be worried about?”

Louis slowly shook his head. “I don’t think so. Nothing more than curiosity. He feels this change in Lestat strongly.”

“Yes, something is different,” Daniel said, raking his fingers through his hair. “But I shared a room with Lestat for the better part of a year. I figured it was separation anxiety. His, not mine.” He laughed quickly before casting a puzzled gaze on Louis. “You know, Marius comes out and it’s amazing what he’s seen, Armand’s maker. He’s told me more about languages alone than I’d ever realized was lost. But as old and powerful as he is, Marius doesn’t make me half as nervous as Lestat, with all his powers.”

Louis smiled, crossing his arms over his chest. “And me, Daniel? You know I have the same powers. Do I make you nervous?”

Amusement filled Daniel’s expression. “You? Come on, Louis!”

“And Chérie? She has the same powers,” he pressed.

“But I know how you two feel,” Daniel said quietly.

Louis leaned close. “I’ll tell you a secret, Daniel, though you should already know Lestat loves you as Chérie and I do. He’s told you often enough himself, but hearing him sometimes requires interpretation. Read between the lines and let his actions speak to you louder than his words. If you need proof, however, you have only to watch his eyes behind the lenses. They will grow brighter when he sees you because he cannot conceal his love right now. But look for this quickly, before he learns to control it.”

Daniel nodded, a light sparking his violet eyes. “I will.” He immediately set off across the parlor.

“Daniel!” Louis hissed. “I did not mean this very instant!”

The ashen-haired vampire shrugged. “What? I’ll be discreet.”

Louis bowed his head and sighed. “I’ve heard that before,” he said to no one but himself.

The piece ended and Armand cradled Chérie under his arm as they came towards Louis. The auburn-haired vampire watched, fascination filling his expression, as Chérie stepped forward and leaned her hands against Louis’s chest.

Louis wrapped her in his arms, nuzzling her ear, tasting her cheek, and covering her lips with his.

Armand smiled at the floor a moment before laying a hand on Louis’s shoulder. He searched his friend’s dark green eyes and slowly shook his head. Armand turned to Chérie and extended his hand. “I wish to tell you something.”

Puzzled, she nonetheless took his tanned fingers and allowed him to lead her to the bench before the harpsichord. She sat and Armand lowered himself beside her, still holding her hand. He glanced up to ensure Louis had followed. A wistful smile clouded his face.

“Earlier this century, I left this one,” he swept his free hand toward Louis, “on the banks of the Mississippi, not far from here.” A great sigh escaped him. “In nearly five hundred years, I have never known such utter despair as I felt that night.” Armand smiled, his gaze distant. “When I first knew Louis in Paris, he had an insatiable spirit, filled with love for all he saw, a growing thirst to be a part of everything our world offered.” He laughed and it was so joyous, his entire expression melted. “The simple act of climbing a tree was the most wondrous mystery revealed in his soothing, green eyes. These were the divine gifts he gave me, the innumerable tiny miracles we so quickly take for granted.”

He turned when he heard Daniel walk up. Lestat was a step behind him and leaned against Louis. Armand smiled affectionately and returned to Chérie, the smile slipping from his face. “When you have lost these wonders, you will do anything to hold them to you again.”

Lestat nodded, a forlorn smile tinting his lips, deepening the tiny dimples at the corners of his mouth.

Armand continued as before. “Louis saw my greed, my voracious hunger, and recognized this evil. He saw how far I would go and, perhaps worse, how far he himself had already gone. This crushed his gentle spirit just as it was blossoming and the fire went out of his eyes.” He sighed and stroked her hand gently. “For decades I watched, but never again did he show any interest in living. And it was this ghost of Louis I left beside the great river. A truly dead thing. Unfeeling. Uncaring. Vicious in his emptiness.”

He paused to hand Chérie a handkerchief. A great pain seemed to cross his face and leave him. Then jubilation slowly permeated his enormous brown eyes as he studied her.

“It was you who brought him back.”

Chérie was on the verge of breaking down completely and he invited her into his arms, stroking her hair as she pressed against his shoulder. “Not even his love for Lestat could rouse him from his deathly wandering. You awakened the passion in him, Chérie, and he found the courage to finally face his terrible pain.” Armand pulled her back and held her face in his hands. “You gave Louis life again and he is reborn. It is important you realize this miracle that has happened.” He pressed his cheek to hers, his silken kiss lingering against her flesh. “Thank you,” he said.

She wrapped her arms about him, clutching his back as she wept.

Armand soothed her gently until her sobbing abated. Slowly, he helped her rise, ducking to smile into her eyes before drawing her before Louis, a handkerchief crushed in his own fist.

Louis took her to his breast, holding her tightly, kissing the crown of her warm, brown hair. He glanced up and held the soft brown eyes in his gaze. One hand reached out, the fingers touching the tanned cheek.

“Armand. My friend.”

The auburn-haired vampire clasped Louis’s hand in both of his. “I am glad you are once more among the living, Louis.”

Louis nodded, lips pressed firmly together, his eyes liquid.

Daniel slid an arm around his maker’s shoulders and tenderly kissed the side of his head.

“It’s getting late,” Lestat said quietly, giving Louis a warm squeeze. “We need to get you to the airport. Go, gather your things.” He pressed his lips to Louis’s cheek, and to Chérie’s when she turned her face up to him. He smiled. “Go.”

As Louis led her away, she finally spoke, the barest whisper.

“I feel so small, Louis.”

“So do I, my love. So do I.”

They smiled to the vampires they passed, stepping from the parlor and down the hallway to their rooms. Louis closed the bedroom doors behind them and they clung to each other.

“That was the most horrible tale I’ve ever heard,” she said quietly.

“For me as well. The worst part is that it’s true.” Louis sighed, leaning heavily against the doors. “The thing that I was.”

“That is the cause of your nightmares, isn’t it?”

Louis’s eyes closed in anguish. “I’m sorry, my love. I had hoped they would be hidden from you.”

“You know you cannot conceal such a thing.” Chérie was quiet for a long moment. “Would you choose to become that lifeless fiend again, Louis?”

Disgust filled his features. “God, no! Never.”

She slowly smiled. “Your decision is firm, then? You’re certain?”

Louis laughed aloud and pulled her closer. “Absolutely!”

“Then stop worrying about it, my love. I am not going anywhere. Not without you, in any case.”

He turned her to face him, holding her chin in his hand. “Do you understand now how brave you are? From Armand’s story? It is a miracle I did not kill you that night, the moment I saw you looking up at me.” He kissed her quickly. “I had done exactly that, countless times.”

Chérie smiled. “You felt no fear in me. And I hope you know by now that I’m not a fool.” She stroked his cheek. “You couldn’t kill me, Louis. It’s simply not what was supposed to happen.”

Louis grinned. “But I did kill you, my love. The next night.”

“Lestat killed me, Louis. I would have survived your beautiful kiss, if he had refused.”

“If he had refused, I would have finished it, to the very threshold of death.”

She laughed quietly. “I’m glad to hear that. There’s a comfort in it somehow.” Her eyes misted. “Lestat is right, you know. All your victims love you. I knew my mortal life was over the moment I saw you, Louis. One way or another.”

“You had only to tell me your name,” he said.

“I know.”

He gently pushed the hair away from her face. “You left me that choice. Why?”

“I had one long moment to watch you, to see the unconcealed torment cloud your beautiful face before you knew I saw you. And I knew in that instant how close you were to life again.” A thin red veil obscured her eyes, but it was not sadness. “You needed to make that choice. I could not take that away from you. Passivity was as much your demon as indifference.” Her smile lighted her face. “And you slew them both, my brave husband.”

“Stubborn. Not brave.” Louis smiled when she laughed.

“Stealing Lestat’s lines again, are you?”

“He’s stolen mine often enough.” Mischief broadened his smile. “We should get Gabrielle, Armand, and Marius together to pick apart Lestat’s autobiography.”

Chérie laughed. “There’s that mean streak again.”

“Oh, not for publication. Just to hand Lestat a marked up copy.” A laugh escaped him. “Let him shred that!”

“Yes, I must admit that would be fun to watch. But there’s no time for it now.” She kissed him quickly. “Get your coat. We can change on the plane.” Her eyes passed over him lustily. “And there’s the matter of consummating this marriage. I want to take my time with that suit.”

He blushed despite himself and donned his coat. “Cloaks?”

Chérie crinkled her nose. “I should have put them down the chute earlier.”

Louis nodded. He too smelled the faint scent of death on them. He scooped them up and dropped them down the laundry chute while Chérie placed brushes, hair ties, and sundry other small items in a bag. Their luggage had been packed and sent ahead to the plane days earlier. Now, finally, they knew their destination.

“Is there anything else you’d like to take, my love?” Chérie asked.

Louis puzzled a moment before answering. “Yes, but I do not believe it will fit in that bag.”

“What is it?”

“You,” he said, smiling and holding her long black cape.

She grinned, delighted. “You say the sweetest things.” She slipped into the cape, fastening it quickly. “I don’t know if I’ll ever become accustomed to such dramatic garments,” she said, laughing.

He pulled on a long black overcoat and while adjusting the fur collar, he remembered as he always did when Lestat had insisted upon purchasing it for him in London one cold winter.

“Memories, my love. More so than when we were mortal, clothes remind us vividly of where we have been and what we have seen.” Louis regarded her approvingly. “I knew the moment I spied that cape it was meant for you. And you needed a bit of velvet, you’re married now.” He sighed. “You are lovely.”

“As are you,” Chérie said, smiling. She retrieved her rose.

“You’re not taking your hat?”

She laughed. “No, that’s my something borrowed. And my something old. I’m surprised you didn’t recognize it.” Amusement twinkled in her eyes.

Louis studied the flat crown, the brim with its tiny curl bent to a delicate point in front. It almost looked like something a British lady might wear to the hunt. He shook his head. “Not a glimmer, I’m afraid.”

“Well, it did need reblocking. Lestat couldn’t believe it was the same hat when he saw it. Apparently, he’d had more curl put in the brim, but it had long since fallen out and I don’t have his jaunty ego, shall we say.”

Louis’s eyes went wide in recognition, his black hair swishing about his shoulders as he shook his head. “That can’t be Lestat’s. Good Lord! He bought that in...eighteen fifty-seven! It couldn’t have survived all these years.”

Chérie nodded. “That’s why he picked it. Exactly one hundred years older than me. As for surviving, the silk was shot but the construction was sound.” Wonder filled her eyes. “And I couldn’t believe all the things he has preserved on Prytania Street! The room Lestat pull that out of couldn’t have been opened in a century or more. We ended up taking the door off the hinges to pry it open, it was so stuck. The hatbox alone would be a collector’s treasure! Not a drop of moisture had touched it in the trunk he lifted it from.”

“It sounds like quite an adventure. I’m afraid I’ve never been inside that house, though I’ve walked past it often enough.” He smiled at her puzzled expression. “You know the truth now about the account in my book. His autobiography isn’t wholly accurate either. It was Armand’s taunting and Lestat’s delirium that placed me there, not fact. After the Théâtre des Vampires, and except for a couple of fleeting glimpses as he drove along Divisidero Street, I didn’t see Lestat again until we met in the Carmel Valley, on the eve of his concert.” Sadness tinged his smile.

Chérie regarded him kindly. “I know, Louis. It still hurts, doesn’t it? So much pain that one missed meeting has caused.”

Louis smiled and there was confidence in his eyes. “Yes, but he and I will heal. With time.” His eyes filled with love. “Your idea of doing the new edition gave us an enormous start. Thank you, my love.”

“It was only an idea.” She smiled and gave her shoulders a shrug. “The credit is yours. You two have come so far in...what did you call it? But an instant?”

He laughed quietly and kissed her as she took his arm. “So, will you be tossing your bridal bouquet?”

She gazed at the rose and Queen’s Wreath. “Not quite a bouquet, but yes, I will toss it.” She smiled impishly. “And I know who will catch it.”

“Clairvoyance?” he teased. “Or a special wish?”

“I’m not clairvoyant,” she said evasively as he opened the doors.

He waited by the door to the study, watching as she ducked inside and retrieved several music discs, dropping them into her bag.

They stepped onto the long gallery to find Lestat, Armand, and Daniel awaiting them. None of the others were in evidence.

“Is it that late?” Louis asked. “Has everyone fled to their crypts?”

Lestat grinned. “Yes, Chérie. Wake him early when you can. His disorientation is too delightful.”

“Always so malicious, Lestat,” Louis said, shaking his head sadly. He stepped close and caught Lestat in mid-giggle, suddenly pulling his maker’s body tightly to him. He covered those determined lips with his mouth, softly drawing on his maker’s breath as if it were blood. As their lips parted, he saw the smile curling one corner of Lestat’s mouth. He smoothed the yellow hair. “How long will we be gone, mon père?” Louis whispered. His eyes blazed when his maker’s smile faded, ever so slightly.

“Don’t be mean,” Chérie scolded, suppressing a giggle.

“But he so enjoys my mean streak.” Louis gently touched the rim of the dark glasses as he righted his maker. He leaned close, whispering for Lestat’s ear alone. “I can see it in your eyes.”

Armand’s expression was as unreadable as ever. “This is amusing, of course, but we must be going.”

“Yes, you two will be fine once you’re on the plane,” Daniel pointed out. “But we still need to drive back.” He and Armand led the way to the door.

Lestat quickly pressed his hand to Louis’s chest, eyes afire behind the dark lenses. “You will miss me more, bien-aimé.” And he laughed. The peals of bells.

But it was more than that, Louis knew, gathering Chérie to him and following as their maker strode out of the flat. The laughter was the sound of pure joy, and he loved it as he had always loved it. And yes, he would miss it dearly.

He drew Chérie to a halt beside the fountain as he breathed deeply of the lush blooms. She smiled warmly and nodded, understanding completely.

They hurried to catch up, passing out of the townhouse as Lestat held the gate for them. Armand and Daniel had circled the car to climb in the opposite side.

The Rue Royale was blessedly silent. And then, as the driver opened the door for them, it began to rain. Hard, cold rain pelted down upon them, though the narrow street remained strangely dry.

Chérie realized it first, her hands flying to her mouth.

Louis extended a long palm and it filled with grain.

“Rice,” he said, quietly amazed.

They turned, shielding their eyes, to see their guests squeezed onto the balconies, showering them from above. Chérie held out a hand to them and several were raised in return.

Louis just smiled and bowed slightly. “Thank you,” he told them as his maker clapped him on the back and hustled them into the car.

As they rolled onto the interstate, Lestat shook his hair to its fullest, sending rice flying about the compartment. Chérie laughed joyously.

“You spend too much time with that dog, Lestat,” Armand said, which set Lestat giggling.

His laughter filled the car as it sped towards the airport and Louis delighted in the sound the entire way. After what seemed like only moments, they rolled out onto the private tarmac and halted before Armand’s jet, the turbines already turning over.

They alighted from the car and Louis saw the eastern sky had gone from black to the deepest blue, the same blue that always lined his coffins. Lestat followed his gaze and smiled, knowing.

At the foot of the stairs, Armand drew Chérie into his arms, stroking her hair lightly. “There is something for you upon the bed. Please forgive me, but there was not time to have it properly framed. You will understand when you see.”

She kissed his silken lips and smiled warmly. “Thank you, Armand. Thank you for allowing me your understanding.” She smiled up at Louis and then back to Armand before stepping aside.

Louis searched the soft brown eyes, so old, peering out of the youthful body. He touched the tanned cheek as he bent, his kiss deep, and gathered the auburn-haired vampire into his arms.

“Armand. My dear friend,” he whispered in his ear, his voice only faintly audible above the jet. “I love you still.”

Armand pulled him away, smoothing the black hair from his face. “Louis. Alive. And everything is possible again.” He smiled.

Louis nodded before surrounding Daniel with his long arms, holding him gently, feeling the soft, pliant texture of his flesh. “Thank you, Daniel, for everything you have given us. Where would we be without you?” He smiled and glanced briefly at Armand. “Take care of him.”

Daniel nodded, squeezing Louis tightly before he stepped back. “For as long as he allows.”

Chérie smiled broadly and leaned up to kiss Daniel’s lips, and for once he allowed her lingering embrace. When their lips parted, she took his hand and smoothed his fingers open. Gently, she laid the rose across his palm and folded his fingers over its stem. “May it be forever, Daniel, my dear friend.”

His violet eyes lighted as he took her gingerly in his arms, as if she would break under his touch. “I will miss you, Chérie.” He slowly released her and, resting a hand upon Armand’s shoulder, breathed deeply of the rose.

Louis and Chérie smiled before turning to their maker.

Lestat scooped up Chérie and she laughed as he turned her dizzily. He stroked her hair. Smoothed her brow. Ran his finger down her cheek, over her lips.

Her entire face melted as a blood-red streak emerged from under his glasses. She gently tipped the lenses off his nose and he quickly shut his eyes. Chérie kissed the tears away, her lips lingering on each closed eyelid, tasting his blond lashes before lowering the glasses into place.

“Enjoy your new eyes, Lestat, and see how happy you make us. I love you, mon père. Lestat.”

“Almost as much as I love you, ma petite.” Her maker met her lips tenderly. “Watch over Louis. Keep him safe. Bonsoir, Chérie.” His smile was heartbroken as he set her gently on the step.

Lestat’s lips moved as he draped a muscular arm around Louis, but no words found voice. His brow crumpled, his head shaking. “I can’t,” he finally whispered, shrugging his shoulders as he drew Louis into his arms.

“No more surly remarks for me, my beloved?” Louis whispered in his ear, face buried in the yellow hair, holding onto his maker tightly. “A temporary condition, I’m sure.” He smiled when he felt Lestat’s grin against his cheek. “You are dear to me as life itself, mon père.” His maker’s sigh sent a shudder racing through his entire body. “Find us if you need us,” he whispered.

“I love you, Louis. Go to Paris and see it new through her eyes. Love it all again. And then come back to me, safe and well.” Lestat laughed softly. “Her house may not be finished, so come home. To your home. To your New Orleans. And we shall rule it as we have always done.”

Louis felt the dampness against his cheek and he laughed. “I again have your handkerchief, don’t I?” He pulled away and slipped his hand quickly into his pocket. He came out with a large square of linen, his own initials in the corner. “Or perhaps my own, for once.” He laughed aloud and shook his head at the irony, formally offering the handkerchief to his maker. “My champion,” he said, grinning. “You have served me well.” He pressed a thumb to his lips, but the moment he saw Lestat quaking with laughter and clutching the linen to his breast, he knew it was futile.

Lestat clung to him as they burst out laughing.

Chérie watched, her eyes swimming, until they could contain themselves somewhat. “We must go, my love. We must be airborne before the sun.”

Louis nodded and hurriedly gave his maker a last hug. “I love you, Lestat.” He stepped beside Chérie.

Lestat took their hands, pressing his lips to each in turn. He smiled proudly. “Such children I have,” he said, a quiet awe in his voice. “Now fly!”

They squeezed his strong fingers, waved to Armand and Daniel beside the car, and mounted the steps, turning once before disappearing inside.

Louis led Chérie quickly to the private compartment in the rear of the jet, carefully locking the door behind them and pulling the blinds shut over the small oblong windows.

Chérie sat on the bed, drawing a long gold box onto her lap. They felt the roar of the engines surge as the jet began rolling forward and she pulled the white ribbon free.

Louis removed his overcoat and lowered himself beside her, holding her firmly as the jet lifted into the air and she removed the lid from the box. Chérie smiled a child’s smile as she dug through the mountains of tissue paper, the rustling as of old taffeta.

She pulled free a long roll of glossy paper, tied with a thin blue ribbon. Sliding it from the roll, she unfurled the paper and gasped in delight. “Mon Dieu!”

“Careful, my love. You’re beginning to think en français.” But Louis frowned. “Armand knows you have this already. I told him of it myself.”

Chérie shook her head excitedly. “Not like this one, I don’t!”

He searched the poster for the movie of his book, but it looked the same.

“Here,” she said, pointing. “Don’t you see? He’s had it signed! Lestat and the actor who played him. Daniel and the actor. Oh, and here is Armand’s along with that stunning Spaniard’s.” She tipped the poster to read the signatures. “And you must sign it, Louis. Here, where the actor who played you signed.”

“I will, my love.” Louis shook his head in wonder. The actors had each scrawled their personal well-wishes along with their signatures but the vampires had not. “That must be where Armand went in such a hurry.” He laughed. “To think of what he must have done to get these! In one night, no less.” He furrowed his brow, lost in thought. “I hope he didn’t draw blood.”

“It’s more likely he gave them one of his lovely visions to convince them of who he was and then made them forget afterwards. They still have Lestat’s books to film, after all.” Chérie jumped to the floor and held the poster against the cabin wall at the foot of the bed. “Should we put it up, do you think?” she teased.

Louis groaned and fell back on the bed.

She laughed and carefully rolled the poster, setting it back in its tissue nest and moving the box off the bed. She removed her cape before sitting again beside him. “Are you tired, my love? It’s been a long night and I’m sure you want to sleep.”

He caught her in his arms and pulled her over, to lie next to him. “Not in the least, my love, my wife. The jet must be taking the long way.” Rolling onto his side, his lips found hers in the dim cabin light and he tasted them again, and yet again. Louis leaned on one elbow. “I love you, Chérie,” he whispered, his dark green eyes aglow, his fingers lazily playing with her hair.

Chérie smiled up at him. “And I love you right back.”

He laughed. “So I’m stuck with you, am I?”

“Oh yes. Forever, my husband.”

He pulled her into his arms, holding her perfectly against him. Louis sighed contentedly.

“Oh, thank God!”


Lestat watched the jet disappear into the black western sky, arms across his chest, a finger absently stroking his jaw. He turned when Armand laid a hand on his shoulder. Tanned fingers briefly touched tanned fingers.

“I give them two months,” Lestat said, unfurling a finger after the jet and grinning at Armand. “They won’t be able to stay away the entire season.”

Armand’s lips parted in shock. “And why wouldn’t they stay? After being locked up with you for two years, they must be ecstatic to finally get free.”

Daniel hung his arm over Armand’s shoulder, shaking his head sadly. “Five weeks. Max.” He laughed.

Lestat stuck out his hand. “You’re on!”

Daniel firmly clasped the proffered hand.

“I cannot believe you two!” Armand grumbled. “Have you no faith?”

Lestat felt it coming, a real laughing fit. It swelled, overtaking him, and he could not stop himself.

Armand glowered sternly. “No, don’t Lestat! Put me down!”

Lestat turned him several times before setting his feet back upon the tarmac. “Oh, Armand! You always make me laugh!”


Louis de Pointe du Lac

San José, California

October 1997

“Armand, I hope, will always be around.”
Louis (TotBT, p4, pb)


Un Glossaire Français
A French Glossary

Following is a brief list of the French phrases used in this story. Only meanings relevant to the story are given.

Alors, well... (as in: well, isn’t that special)

Au contraire, on the contrary

Bien-aimé, beloved (m)

Bonne nuit, good night (bedtime)

Bonsoir, good evening

C’est mon plaisir, it’s my pleasure

Chérie, sweetheart, darling (f)

D’accord, agreed (imperative)

Dansez avec moi, dance with me (polite)

De rien, it’s nothing (idiom)

De rigueur, obligatory (idiom)

Docteur de Lioncourt, Doctor Lioncourt

En français, in French

Enchantée, enchanted (f, imperative)

Le Marquis et la Marquise de Lioncourt, the Marquis and the Marquise of Lioncourt

Lioncourt, short (brief span of time) lion

Ma chère mariée, my dear bride

Ma chère, my dear (f)

Ma petite, my child (f)

Madame, madam, missus

Mademoiselle, miss

Mais oui, but of course (idiom)

Merci, thank you

Merci beaucoup, thank you very much

Merde, excrement

Messieurs, gentlemen

Mon ami, my friend (m)

Mon cher, my dear (m)

Mon Dieu, my God

Mon mari, my husband

Mon père, my father

Mon petit, my child (m)

Monsieur, sir, mister

Monsieur et Madame de Pointe du Lac, Mr. and Mrs. Pointe du Lac

N’est-ce pas?, isn’t that so? (idiom)

Notre père, our father

Oui, madame, yes ma’am

Pardon, pardon

Pointe du Lac, point (tip) of the lake

S’il vous plaît, please (polite)

Soirée, party, a traditional Créole supper dance held in the home’s double parlor for close family and friends

Touché, touch, point conceded (fencing)

Très bien, very good (morally)

Très bon, very good (m, ability)

Zut, damn (more polite than merde)

Table of Appendices

Townhouse Maps

The Townhouse

Very little exists that describes the layout of the townhouse in the Rue Royale, how rooms relate to one another. The kitchen, for example, is described in IWTV as being detached. So even the layout of the Gallier House is of little assistance.

For grins and giggles, try comparing all the descriptions of the fountain in the courtyard. Hint. Four of the seven books [published as of the story's reposting in 1997] contain one or more descriptions of it.

What I came up with was pieced together from all of the odd references. With the exception of the courtyard, kitchen, and carriage house, everything shown here is on the second floor.


[2006: The Gallier House site now includes a detailed floor plan. The double parlor is situated on the first floor, however, not upstairs (or with balconies) as described in the texts.]

Louis’s Rooms

This is a pure fabrication on my part, something to work with as I wrote Resurrection. Its only basis in the text is one reference Lestat makes in MtD to “Louis’s rooms.” Plural.


Table of Appendices

About the Author...

Sheri Richardson is an award-winning writer and an as-yet-unpublished novelist. Writing is the essence of her nature. She is also a long-time computer professional. A California native, until recently she lived in the Silicon Valley with her daughter. She currently has three manuscripts in development and seeks new representation.

Her speculative fiction focuses more on the mundane, on the day-to-day lives of the characters, taking a few days and filling in the myriad tiny joys and sorrows that make up a life. Or as Leo Kottke has said: Take a simple melody and drive it into the ground.

A fledgling devotee to vampiric fiction, Sheri is fiercely loyal to cher Louis in all things, but finds Lestat’s passion and humor almost irresistible. Almost.

Table of Appendices

About the Story...

Resurrection builds upon the scenario laid out in my first spec (speculative parody), Another Interview, which has been fondly dubbed “Louis Gets a Life” by some readers.

This story was kindled from the observation that Armand’s immolation in MtD went unwitnessed by immortal eyes. And then, only a few pages into it, Lestat opened his big mouth. Sigh. He becomes quite the two-year-old when you try to cut his lines. (See TotBT, p300, pb, for Lestat’s uncanny assessment of two-year-olds.) So it stayed and the scope of the story swelled beyond the most obvious resurrection to encompass at least five.

Resurrection delves into six nights in the life of Louis de Pointe du Lac, stretched over a year. The Introduction, though not one of Louis’s nights, is offered up as but one possible insight into what our auburn-haired friend might have been thinking [MtD, p331-335, HC]. Or perhaps it’s simply what he wishes me to believe. I only hope I did him justice throughout.

Joseph Haydn’s Concerto in F major for Violin, Harpsichord, and Strings, also known as the Double Concerto for Violin and Harpsichord, was written in 1765 or earlier. Louis undoubtedly discovered it much later, as it survived in manuscript form only until 1937, when it was finally published. I happened across it on a White Label compact disc (HRC088), performed by the Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra, Budapest, and directed by János Rolla. I have found no more moving rendition than Rolla’s. The largo is truly a duet of love between the two instruments.

Within the story are embedded two links of note.

My warmest thanks to Claudine and Toria for their invaluable assistance, and to those who wrote to me about Another Interview.

Resurrection and my two other Louis stories may be found in their entirety on Divisadero Street, Louis’s original homepage.

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Revision Details

Posted, January 1996 -- Originally uploaded to the A.B.A-R newsgroup.

Reposted, October 1997 -- Updated e-mail address and added Divisadero Street link.

Converted to HTML, November 1998 -- Long overdue, non? I also got around to changing baritone to alto. Duh.

Updated the HTML, October 2006 -- Modernized the code, erradicated the frames, and also reverted bienaimé to the more common spelling, bien-aimé. Added a link to the new site for the Gallier House, which thankfully survived Katrina’s passing.

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[Respect that was once given freely, having been demanded, is irretrievably lost.]

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and incidents in this work are fictitious or used fictitiously. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, products, or publications -- living, dead, or otherwise -- is intended nor should such be inferred.

The story and all its trimmings are protected by U.S. and international copyright law. Posting or republication is prohibited without my express, written permission in advance. If you would like the story for your site feel free to contact me, using the link below. I cannot give permission for reproduction of this story in any for-profit collection on any media; t’was written for love, not money. I will entertain writing to spec, however.

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