Two hours later Rachel was standing in front of my chair again. I looked up and smiled at her as I put the magazine I'd been reading on the table.
"All set?" I asked, rising from my chair.
"Where would you like to go?"
Rachel pursed her lips, thinking for a moment, then sneaked a glance at me. "Would you mind if we went back to the lake?"
"Actually, that would be pleasant. I've always enjoyed being near the water."
We walked together to the parking lot and her vehicle. She suddenly looked up at me and asked, "What about your car?"
"I walked, my dear."
"All the way from the Raven?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes." She continued to look at me in disbelief. "Well, it's only seven miles!" I huffed at her, irritated that she doubted my word.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly, "I believe you. I just can't imagine walking seven miles myself. I like to drive everywhere."
I felt the irritation leave me. She actually understood what I was irritated about! None of my children were ever able to do that, even through the blood bond!
"Well then, my dear, for you, we shall ride in your car." I smiled and held the door for her after she unlocked it, then walked to the passenger side and got in.
Just a few minutes later, we were at the same park where I'd first seen her. It was a nice night, so we left the car and settled on one of the benches closest to the water. We sat in silence for a time, letting the sound of the waves bring calm to us both. I felt her eyes upon me gradually and turned to face her. She was studying me, studying my face. I raised an eyebrow.
"What do you see?" I whispered, not really wishing to break the spell around us. She reached out her hand and, hesitantly, touched my cheek. I closed my eyes, felt her fingers trail down my jaw and off at my chin. I waited a moment, then looked at her again. "What do you see, Rachel?"
"I see a man who loves very deeply. So much so that he is afraid to admit it to anyone. Even himself." I looked away, out at the water as she continued. "I see a man who is desperate for companionship but watching it slip away from him." She put her hand over mine. "Lucien?"
I waited for her to ask her question but she remained silent. I looked back, meeting her eyes and she nodded, apparently waiting for my full attention.
"Tell me about Nicholas."
I stared in stunned silence. She was rubbing the back of my hand, simply waiting for me to begin. But where to begin? What can I say to her that will even make sense to her? Finally, I drew in a deep breath and took hold of her fingers.
"Some of it cannot be told, Rachel."
"Then tell me what can be told."
I held her hand in both of mine, trying to sort through my thoughts, to find a beginning that could be told.
"Nicholas. Nicholas is a police officer, a homicide detective. We've known each other for many, many years, since he was a young man. He has been both a son and a lover to me, over the course of our relationship." I pulled out my wallet, a picture of Nicholas and Janette together, and handed it to Rachel. She angled the picture so that she could see it under the walkway lights.
"He's very handsome. Is this the woman he…" her voice trailed off as she stumbled over the question.
"No. That is Janette. She is a part of our family group as well. I met her before I met Nicholas."
She nodded, but didn't question any further about Janette. "So, he's a homicide detective?" I nodded. "How much younger than you is he?"
I hesitated, trying to calculate Nicholas' mortal age when I brought him across. "Nicholas is ten years younger than me, 34 years old."
"What do you two have in common?"
I chuckled bitterly. "These days, nothing but stubbornness. We are complete opposites anymore." I shook my head in despair.
"But what did you have in common? What drew you two together?"
I breathed in deeply, looking at the night sky as if the answer were written in the stars. "What drew us together … I was drawn to Nicholas from the very beginning. He was full of youthful idealism and romanticism, he'd suffered some disillusions, but for the most part those qualities had remained intact. He was handsome," I said, smiling at her, causing her to blush.
"He was intelligent, strong willed, full of fiery spirit, ready to die for his beliefs. He still is. But through the years, and owing a great deal to my own actions, he has lost his idealism. That is the greatest injustice that I have ever done, robbing him of that. I saw him as a worthy companion, someone I could teach what I had learned in my experience. Someone I could teach to be my equal." I sighed, putting both hands over my face in grief. "If only I had realized that it was I that needed to learn to be his equal while there was still time to mend our fences."
Rachel reached out and put her hand on my shoulder, in a gesture meant to comfort me. I could feel the warmth of her skin through my jacket but I couldn't let it ease the pain. I needed to feel it.
"Lucien, there's always a chance to mend fences so long as you both live. Maybe things will never be the way they were or the way you want them to be," she continued hurriedly to quell my interruption. "But there's still time to reconcile with him."
I met her gaze and whispered solemnly, "I would give everything that I have to accomplish that with Nicholas. Even if that meant stepping aside for Dr. Lambert." I never thought I'd ever say such a thing!
"What drew Nicholas to you?"
For a second time in this conversation, I could only stare at her in stunned silence. I didn't know the answer to this question.
"Lucien?" she prompted quietly.
"Rachel, I do not know what he ever saw in me nor do I know why he kept trying to see something through all those years of hostility. Why he keeps looking even now." I got up from the bench, angry at myself at having made such an admission to her, a mortal yet. I stalked over to the water and knelt down, putting my hands in the water, allowing the waves to ebb and flow over them. It was soothing. Rachel gave me a moment alone, then knelt down next to me, putting her hands in the water as well.
"I have a CD at home that has the sounds of the ocean on it," she said softly. "I play it when I want to relax. I love the rhythmic sound of the waves. When I was a little girl, my family used to camp on Long Point in Lake Erie. I never slept so good as I did then, in a tent surrounded by the water and the sound of the waves."
"That sounds wonderful," I replied, still running my fingers through the water and the gravel at the shore.
"Why do you like the water?" she asked, copying my actions.
"As a child, I lived in a village on the Mediterranean Sea. The sound and smell of the sea was an ever present part of my life. One that I still miss from time to time." I gestured at the dark expanse of water. "Lake Ontario tries valiantly to mimic the sound, but being fresh water it simply cannot mimic the smell."
"I've never been to Europe, seen the Mediterranean. But I have been to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, seen the North Atlantic. Thinking on it now reminds me of you, actually," she said with a smile and a sidelong glance at me.
"The North Atlantic has mercurial moods. Calm, blue and serene one moment, then, in the blink of an eye, dark, stormy and deadly."
How accurately she has me pegged. I nodded agreement and sat back on the shore, pulling her back to sit with me.
"Rachel, I appreciate you're inviting me here tonight. And I hope that your comparison of me to the North Atlantic ocean tends more toward calm and serene than stormy and deadly."
She smiled and chuckled. "Well, so far it's been half and half. But that's to be expected when someone is working through deep personal troubles as you are. I have the feeling that 'grey skies are gonna' clear up'!"
I looked at her, stricken. "You are not going to sing are you?"
She laughed merrily. "I promise not to."
We sat in companionable silence for awhile but were suddenly caught in the glare of flashlights. I stood, pulling her to her feet and behind me, facing the light. It was hastily lowered to reveal two sets of amused but slightly guilty eyes. I groaned inwardly. It was Nicholas and Tracy, no doubt here to enforce the "park closes at dusk" signs. I turned back to Rachel to reassure her that there was no danger here.
"It's all right, Rachel. May I present my son, Detective Nicholas Knight, and his partner, Detective Tracy Vetter. Apparently, homicide is slow tonight and they've been reassigned to the Parks Service." I couldn't resist the jab at them both. Tracy grinned broadly at me; even Nicholas smiled.
He stepped forward, closer so that her mortal eyes could see him. "Rachel. It's nice to meet you." Tracy stepped up to Nicholas' side and voiced a greeting as well.
"Thank you, it's nice to meet you both. Are you really here to tell us to leave?"
Nicholas smiled apologetically. "I'm afraid so. Some sanitation workers called it in. Next time park at the coffee shop and walk down. They only called because they saw the car."
Rachel looked disappointed but filed his suggestion away for 'next time'.
I took her elbow gently and whispered, "I suppose we'd better go. Would you like to come back to the Raven?"
"Well, it's getting quite late. I have an appointment tomorrow morning. Why don't you come to my house for a bit? I'll get you that CD. I think you'll like it."
She leaned against my side as the four of us walked back to where the cars were parked. I helped Rachel into her car and walked around to the passenger side where Nicholas and Tracy were still standing.
"Something else, detectives?"
Tracy smiled, stepped forward and kissed me on the cheek. "I'm glad you found someone to talk to," she whispered. Then she was gone, getting into Nicholas' car, leaving us in awkward silence.
"No more necking in the park!" I looked up sharply at him. His eyes had that mischievous gleam that I could never say no to and he was smiling at me. I shook my head and smiled back.
"I promise to be good, Detective Knight. No more 'necking in the park'."
"Good night, LaCroix."
"Good night, Nicholas."
I got into Rachel's car. She waved at the other two and pulled out, headed for her home.
"They seem very nice," she commented lightly. "But a little too amused, if you ask me. Must be a slow night. And that Nicholas must have been a holy terror as a little boy with that mischievous streak!"
I snorted at the thought of Nicholas being described as a 'holy terror' by anyone.
"Oh, my gosh! How are you going to get home? And don't say you'll walk! It's way too late to be walking on the city streets now."
She was so concerned about my welfare on the streets I almost laughed. If only she knew that I was one of those dangers to be worried about so late at night.
"Don't worry, my dear. I will call Nicholas for a ride. Revenge can take many forms and this one is particularly sweet."
She looked relieved and continued on toward her home.
Nick and Tracy were stopped at a gas station so Tracy could get another coffee. It had been a long, uneventful night and she needed something to keep her awake. Tracy had just gotten back to the car when Nick's cell phone rang.
"Knight. Hello, LaCroix. What? You're kidding right? Uh, sure, okay. What's the address? See you in a few minutes." He hung up the phone and stared at it in confusion.
"Nick? What's up?" Tracy asked, taking a sip of her coffee.
"That was LaCroix. He wants me to give him a ride home."
"He wants what?"
"A ride home. He said that Rachel doesn't want him to walk. She thinks it's too dangerous at this time of the night."
Tracy was chuckling already and burst into outright laughter as Nick finished his explanation. "Oh god," she gasped, "if only she knew!"
Nick smiled and shook his head. "Yeah, walking home is LaCroix's favorite pastime."
"Like a trip to the fridge for a midnight snack?" Tracy asked slyly, feigning total innocence and ignorance at Nick's look of outraged shock over her comment. "What?" Nick shook his head over her audacity as he started the Cadillac and headed off to the address LaCroix had given him.
LaCroix stepped out Rachel's door as Nicholas pulled up into the driveway. Tracy could see Rachel peering out the window of her apartment, making sure that LaCroix got a ride safely. The vampire in question got into the back seat of Nick's car with an amused smirk on his face. Nick backed out of the driveway and drove around the corner to pull up at the curb out of sight of Rachel's apartment.
"Have a good night, LaCroix," he said, glancing at his master in the rear view mirror. LaCroix neither spoke nor left the car, just met Nicholas' gaze steadily. After a few long beats, LaCroix sighed.
"This is not my home, Nicholas." Nick just blinked.
"You mean, you actually want me to drive you home?"
"That was what I had in mind. Did I misspeak on the telephone? My apologies. Actually, I would prefer if you would drive me back to the Raven."
Nicholas opened and closed his mouth several times to reply but was unable to make a sound. Failing this, he clamped his mouth shut and pulled away from the curb, heading in the direction of the Raven. After several blocks had gone by, he tried again.
"Why do you want a ride back to the Raven? Normally you hate to ride in cars. And if you'd flown, you could have been there by now."
"I told you, Nicholas, Rachel thought it was too dangerous to walk this late at night." Nick glanced into the mirror expecting to see his father's usual smug expression of amusement staring back at him and was surprised to find LaCroix staring out the side window of the Cadillac.
"Okay. It's a slow night anyway," Nick acquiesced. "Maybe we can come in for a few minutes, have a drink." Nick glanced into the mirror again. LaCroix hadn't moved. Tracy looked over her shoulder when no response came from the back seat, then shared a worried look with Nick.
They arrived at the Raven ten minutes later, parking near the front doors. It was late and the Raven was almost deserted. They walked into the club together and settled at a table near LaCroix's office. Miklos appeared at the table almost immediately with bloodwine for LaCroix and Nicholas and soda for Tracy.
"Thanks, Miklos," Nick murmured. Nick took a sip from the glass and looked at LaCroix who was looking at a CD case.
"Did Rachel give you that?" Tracy asked softly, giving Nick a significant glance to let her lead this conversation right now.
"Yes," LaCroix whispered, never looking up from the CD case. "She found it to be relaxing and thought I might find it the same."
A moment later he realized just what he had said and to whom. The mask slammed back into place as he thrust the CD into his jacket pocket trying to appear indifferent. "Why she believes I would think that is quite beyond me," he said, draining his glass and signaling Miklos for more. Miklos returned, filled his glass and left the bottle on the table.
"So she didn't want the master of this community walking on the streets after midnight, huh?" Tracy asked lightly, following his desire to change the subject. "Too dangerous for you?" She smiled brightly when LaCroix glanced up at her. After a moment all three were softly chuckling.
"Urchin!" LaCroix teasingly chided Tracy.
"She seems very nice. How did you meet her?"
"Actually we met in that very park during last week's rainstorm. She works at the booksellers on Dundas Street. We had decided to go back to the park after her shift until…" he trailed off with a smirk at she and Nick. Both tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle their smiles.
A comfortable silence fell over the table, with each lost in their own thoughts. The sound of Nick's cell phone startled all three of them. Nick pulled the phone out to answer it, while the other two chuckled. Tracy watched Nick's face become serious and turned to LaCroix.
"Well, looks like we've got to get back to work." LaCroix nodded. He could hear both sides of the phone conversation. "Listen, the symphony is doing a tribute to Mozart next Thursday. You want to go?"
LaCroix met her gaze and answered softly, "Tracy, I know that Vachon would like to hear that. Why don't you invite him to go?"
"Because I already did. My father got a whole row of tickets as a gift but he can't go that night because he's out of town at a law enforcement convention so he gave them to me. You could invite Rachel to go too. We'll rent a limo and all go together, make a night of it. What do you say?"
Nick had finished writing down the address and hung up his cell phone in time to catch the end of Tracy's invitation to LaCroix. He leaned forward and in a stage whisper said "I'd accept if I were you. She can be really persuasive."
LaCroix turned a critical eye on Tracy for a moment then leaned in toward his son to whisper back "In this case, I would have to agree with you, mon fils."
Tracy crossed her arms and glared at the two of them. Nick laughed and put his hand on her shoulder. "Come on, we've got a call." They both stood and put their jackets back on. Tracy looked back at LaCroix.
"So? Are you coming? Will you ask her?"
LaCroix shook his head amused at her rapid fire questioning. "Yes, Tracy. I will come to the symphony and yes, I will ask Rachel if she would like to go as well."
"Good. I'll call you later with the details. 'Bye, LaCroix!" She bounced happily out the door as Nick followed behind her shaking his head.
"Good night, LaCroix."
"Good night, Nicholas."
LaCroix watched his son followed his partner out. Miklos came over and sat at the table with him, chuckling. LaCroix glanced at him sideways. "What's so funny?" he asked quietly.
"Were we ever that young?" Miklos asked, pouring both of them a drink. LaCroix laughed and clinked his glass against Miklos' glass.
"Miklos, I was born old!" Both laughed and chugged their drinks, then Miklos stood and locked the doors to close for the night.