Justice Better Served
by Rosemary Beard
Claire's heart beat wildly as she ran in terror. She needed to find somewhere public, somewhere she could get lost in the crowd. If he caught up with her, he'd kill her. They had promised she'd be safe, how did James find her so quickly? Claire turned the corner and saw it. The sign above the door said "Raven". It was a small nightclub, but there would be people there. He wouldn't try anything there, not in front of so many witnesses. Pushing her way through the crowd in front of this little club, she gasped
"Please, I must get through. He's going to kill me!"
A pair of large hands reached out to stop her, but she managed to slip past them and rush inside. Claire heard the man behind her shouting, ordering her to stop. She turned to look back and ran right into someone standing not far from the door. She tilted her head back and found herself looking up into a pair of pale blue eyes. Claire opened her mouth to speak but before she could form the words, darkness closed in on her. She fell forward into his arms.
Claire opened her eyes. Slowly she sat up and looked around. Sitting in a chair nearby was the man she had stumbled into. His pale blue eyes were studying her intently. His stare made her uneasy, as if he were looking straight into her soul. Claire looked back at him, trying to fake a courage she knew she didn't feel.
"Who are you?" She demanded, "And where am I?"
A smile slowly crossed his lips.
"As to your first question, I am Lucien LaCroix. I own this establishment. You are in my office and this is the Raven."
Claire breathed a sigh of relief, she remembered pushing her way in to the club.
"How did I get here?" She asked.
"I brought you here. My man at the door said you pushed your way in, shouting something about being killed. I had just come out of my office when you fainted into my arms," he said, his gaze still fixed on her face. "I carried you in here and put you on that sofa. "
Lucien got up from the chair and crossed the room. Picking up a crystal decanter, he poured some of the contents into a glass and walked back to where Claire was sitting.
"Drink this." he said offering her the glass.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Brandy. You've had a shock, it will help."
Claire looked suspiciously at the glass.
" I don't drink." she said. "Besides, how do I know what's in it?"
"Trusting soul aren't we?" he said, his annoyance growing. "No need to worry. I'm not in the habit of poisoning people."
Claire sat looking up into his face. She could see the anger in his eyes. Slowly she reached up and took the glass from his hand and sat looking at it. Lucien crossed the room and poured another glass of the liquid. Picking it up he downed it with one swallow. He turned and focused his gaze once again on the girl.
Cautiously she lifted the glass to her lips and took a small sip. Claire felt her face flush. She wasn't used to drinking brandy, nor being stared at. Lucien walked to the chair opposite her and sat down.
"I believe I am expected to be a polite host and make conversation." he said icily. "Suppose you start by telling me your name. You already know mine."
"I am Claire" she said shakily, offering him her hand. "Claire Brienne."
LaCroix made no effort to take her hand, he merely leaned back in his chair.
"Who is trying to kill you?" he asked, his eyes holding hers. "And why?"
Claire's eyes grew large. She set the glass on a nearby table and clenched her hands in her lap, debating with herself whether she should confide in him. Standing up she walked to the only window and looked out into the darkness. Every instinct in her told her to run. There was something frightening about this man. Why should she tell him anything? He was merely a stranger. Maybe she should just go to the police. Turning back to face him, she asked,
"Can I trust you?"
Lucien smiled. "That's hard to say. Maybe you shouldn't." he said, "But then how do I know you are telling me the truth? You may be nothing more than an errant wife who was caught by an irate husband. How do I know this wasn't something you staged so that you could gain entrance to this club." Rising from the chair he started for the door. "Either way, I'm a busy man. I don't have time for these games. I have a club to run. Now, if you will excuse me."
He was growing bored with this mortal. Claire stood there, her anger rising.
"Of all the conceited, overbearing, patronizing attitudes!" she shouted, "You, You...oooh!"
Grabbing at the first thing she could find, she flung a statue at him. Lucien ducked and the piece of art sailed over his head and smashed into the door. Suddenly he was in front of her. She could see the look of amusement on his face, and this only served to fuel her rage.
"Get out of my way!" she ordered, "I have to go. I won't trouble you any further."
LaCroix looked down at her, taking in her features. She was small, the top of her head, covered in a riot of dark curls, barely reached his shoulder. Her eyes, a soft golden brown, were large and full of fire. He was reminded of a kitten, fluffed and hissing, trying to look menacing when faced with a larger adversary. He chuckled to himself.
"This could be interesting." he thought, "Quite a change from the normal routine."
The sound of his laughter frightened her, she felt trapped. Lashing out in fear, she swung at him. He caught her by the wrist before she could make contact. Her fear rising, she tried to kick him. He side stepped the blow and she found herself enclosed in his arms.
"Quite a little fighter aren't we." he said, laughing out loud.
Claire's arms were pinned to her sides as she struggled with him, trying to free herself. He was far too strong for her, she couldn't escape his grasp. An idea flashed through her mind, and she went suddenly limp. This movement caught LaCroix off guard, and in order to retain his balance he was forced to let her go. Claire seized this opportunity and bolted across the room. Claire stood there staring at him like a caged animal. She reached across the desk and grabbed a letter opener.
"If you come one step closer," she sputtered, " I'll use this. I swear, I'll kill you."
LaCroix looked at her. She wasn't like the average mortal female. This one had a fire about her that intrigued him. Raising his arms, he walked slowly to the sofa and sat down.
"I surrender." he said, "Put that down and let's talk."
Claire's first reaction was to run, to escape. She looked at him puzzled. Why had he given up so easily? Surely he didn't believe she was strong enough to do him any great harm. Was he just toying with her, wanting her to let her guard down?
"Why should I trust you?" she asked him.
"Because I can help you". he said. "Put that down and come sit and talk to me."
His voice took on a deeper quality, resonating through her, willing her to obey. Claire looked at him. His eyes seemed large and compelling.
"Put that down and come sit with me." he said again.
Claire slowly laid the letter opener on the desk. She felt as if she were being drawn into his gaze. She took a hesitant step towards him and then stopped.
"No" she said. "You're doing something to my mind. I won't."
"A resister," he thought to himself, "This gets more interesting all the time."
Smiling at her, he stood and reached out his hand to her.
"Let me help you." he said.
Claire was suspicious of this strange man, but she was tired. Tired of running, tired of being hunted like an animal. But could she trust him? Slowly she walked across the room and sat down. Lucien sat next to her.
"I can't pay you." she said. "I don't need your money."
Lucien told her, studying her face. "I have more than enough to sustain my needs. Let's just call this a favor."
Claire stiffened. "A favor?" she asked. "Why would you do this for a stranger? What do you hope to gain?"
"The thrill of the hunt", he said smiling, his eyes suddenly rimmed with gold. "The hunter becomes the hunted. I find that very exhilarating."
Claire wasn't sure whether or not she should believe him. True, she needed help, but why should this man be so willing to put himself in danger?
"Maybe I should just go to the police?" she said, rising from her seat.
LaCroix reached up and lightly took hold of her arm. Looking into her eyes, he asked
"Have the police been able to protect you? You are still being hunted, are you not?"
Claire stood still for a moment. The police hadn't been able to keep James from finding her. She had moved five times in the last three years and he had found her every time. Maybe Mr.LaCroix could help her. She had to trust someone. She couldn't protect herself forever.
"Alright." she said, still skeptical. "I accept your offer, but you have to be able to guarantee my safety. Can you assure me that he will not find me and kill me?"
A wicked smile crossed his face.
"Madam" he said, rising from the sofa, " I can promise you that James will not bother you again."
Claire was puzzled. "How can you be so sure?" she asked. "You don't know James. He can make himself almost invisible. The police haven't been able to catch him. What makes you think you can?"
LaCroix looked amused. Turning to face her, he smiled again. There was something about that smile that made Claire uneasy. She shifted in her seat, wishing she had never come here. She could just have easily gone into any other building. Why this one? And why had she agreed to this man's offer of help. So many things about this situation didn't make sense. Was he playing with her mind again? Claire couldn't be sure and it frightened her. Seating himself on the edge of the desk, he leaned toward her.
"Tell me about this James of yours."
"He isn't MY James!" she said angrily, "At least not any more. I was married to him once, but that ended years ago. He's evil. I really don't know why I married him in the first place, except I was young and stupid."
Claire got up from her seat and began to pace nervously.
"I never should have trusted him, but I believed him when he said he loved me. I was too naive. How was I to know he was a killer?"
Claire turned and looked at Lucien. A look of guilt crossed her face.
"I know what you're thinking. I should have found out more about him. I had only known him for a few weeks. He told me he was a representative for an import firm, she sighed. "But he was everything I wanted: excitement, sophistication. He traveled all over the world. I trusted him to be what he said he was." Claire walked to the window and looked out into the darkness. "I found out what he really was about 6 months after our wedding."
Claire wiped away a tear that had made its way down her cheek.
" We were in London. I was getting dressed to go sightseeing when the phone rang. I overheard James talking. It must have been the person who hired him. I didn't hear all of what he said but I heard a name. The next day they found this person dead. He had been murdered. At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but later when I was looking for James in his study, I found a stack of pictures" Claire reached into her pocket and took out her handkerchief. She was crying freely now. Wiping her eyes she continued, "On top of the pile was a photo of the man the police had found. I recognized his photograph from the one I had seen in the paper."
Claire turned and walked back to the sofa. Sighing, she sat down and began twisting and untwisting the cloth in her hands.
"I don't know what finally made me realize the connection, but I went to the library and began reading the back issues of the major newspapers from every place we had been. Each time, there had been a murder and each time it matched one of the photographs I had found in James' study."
LaCroix knew that Claire was genuinely frightened. He could hear her heartbeat as it raced wildly in her chest. Her fear was almost intoxicating and only with the greatest of self control did he manage to restrain his baser instincts. Rising from his seat on the desk, he walked toward her and sat down on the sofa.
"What did you do with this information? Did you confront him? Is this why he wishes to eliminate you?"
Claire looked up into LaCroix's face. Her eyes were large and filled with tears.
"I turned him in to the police." she whispered. "I know he was my husband and I owed him a certain amount of loyalty, but he's a hired assassin, a murderer. How could I be sure I wouldn't become his victim. I was frightened."
Claire buried her face in her hands and began sobbing. His eyes were tinged with gold, his anger surfacing. He knew what it was to be hunted by someone you had once loved. He felt a rare flash of tenderness for this woman, who was obviously trying her best to cope with a situation gone completely out of her control.
"The p-police," she sobbed, "The police promised to protect me. J-james was supposed to go to jail. S-somehow he m-must have bought out the jury."
Claire raised her head and looked up at him, the fear in her eyes quite visible.
"H-he was acquitted. A-and now he is after me. H-he's gonna kill me!"
Lucien stood and walked to the window, his eyes now fully golden. He had terrorized his enemies when it became necessary, but this was senseless. Claire was no longer a threat to this man. This was the act of a coward, and cowardice was something he could not tolerate. He would teach this James the true meaning of terror. Walking to the door, he summoned Alma. He whispered instructions to her and then turned to face Claire.
"Come with me." he said abruptly, "We will collect your things. You will be staying here until this matter is settled."
"H-here?" asked Claire, "But I thought this was a nightclub." She wiped the tears from her face.
"It is also my home. You will be under my protection here." Lucien informed her, matter of factly.
"Y-your home? You want me to move in here? With you?"
Claire's eyes took on a look of suspicion.
"Sir, I can't do that. I don't know you. How can you even ask such a thing. I came here for help, not......."
Lucien glared at her. "Madam," he said icily, " You assume too much. I have neither the inclination nor the time for what you suggest. Do you wish my help or not?"
He was clearly annoyed. Claire was still not quite sure whether she should trust this man. He was offering her help, but at what price? She realized she didn't really have any options. Slowly she stood and walked to where he was standing. Drawing herself up with all the dignity she could muster, she looked up into his eyes.
"I have no choice. I accept your offer. But I will not be used by you or anyone else. Until this 'matter', as you call it is settled, I will allow you to protect me."
LaCroix smiled. "Allow?" he repeated to himself. She would allow him to protect her? Laughing softly he escorted her out the door and into the night.
The ride from her apartment back to the Raven was spent in silence. Claire stole a sideways glance at LaCroix. She wished she knew what he was thinking. His eyes darted warily, almost as a hunter seeking his prey. LaCroix had noticed a bronze colored car following them. He could almost sense the determination of its driver. Instinct told him that the man behind the wheel was a hunter, who having found his prey, would not be easily shaken off the trail. Lucien leaned forward and motioned for his driver to stop the car.
"What is it? " asked Claire. "What's wrong?"
She looked worried. Had they found her already? She took hold of the door handle and prepared to make a quick exit, as the car slowed and pulled over to the curb.
"Nothing for you to be worried about." Lucien lied, "I forgot an errand I must do. I'll get out here and meet you at the Raven."
He gave her a short, reassuring smile.
"I shouldn't be too long."
Lucien opened the door and got out. He motioned for the driver to continue on. As soon as both cars were out of sight he took to the air, following the suspicious vehicle. Claire's driver did his best to evade the other vehicle, but to no avail. It continued to follow them turn for turn. Reaching the Raven the driver pulled into an alley, opening the door to the private parking garage with the remote control. The driver of the bronze car slowed as he passed the club.
He watched as they entered the garage. Once the door closed, he pulled away and drove to the nearest phone booth. The man's voice, almost a whisper, reported to his employer that he had found Claire and that the target would be eliminated by morning. Satisfied with himself, he hung up the phone and exited the booth.
As he turned to walk back to the car, he found himself looking up into a pair of golden eyes. LaCroix grasp him by the throat. Lifting him high into the air, he growled, "
Who hired you? Tell me who it was. I will not ask again."
The man was frightened beyond words.
"I, I don't know." he stammered. "It was just a voice. A man's voice. He gave me a name and told me to do the job. He transferred half the money to me from someplace overseas and I get the other half after the job is done."
Lucien's grip tightened around the man's throat.
"I don't know." the man screamed. "I swear, I don't know!"
Lowering him back to the ground, LaCroix snapped the man's neck, as quickly and carelessly as one snaps a twig. The body slumped to the ground as LaCroix turned and walked away.
Claire followed the driver from the garage into the Raven. Once inside Alma guided her to the room she would occupy during her stay here. Claire looked around. It was a spacious room with old fashioned furnishings. She walked across the plush carpet and set her suitcases on the large bed. She busied herself with unpacking and tried not to think about her situation.
Claire slid the empty suitcases under the bed. She needed a shower and some sleep. Surely she must look disheveled. Picking up her hairbrush she began brushing her hair. She had forgotten to ask Alma about the bathroom. Claire walked out into the hallway and began opening doors. The first room was dark and empty. She closed the door and walked to the next. Just as she reached for the knob, a voice from behind her asked,
"Looking for something?"
Turning quickly she saw Lucien standing with his arms folded across his chest.
"I was looking for a bathroom if you must know." Claire snapped. "Do you always sneak up on your guests? You gave me the fright of my life."
"This way." he said, and led her back into her room. "That door leads to your bathroom." Lucien pointed to a door, half-hidden by a large armoire, "You only needed to ask. I can't have you wandering around the club. I have other guests and they value their privacy. In the future if you require anything, you will ask."
Claire felt like a child being scolded.
"Well if you hadn't left me alone, I could have asked you. You are supposed to be protecting me," she said angrily. "How can you protect me if you're not even here?"
Lucien looked down at her. The spitting kitten had surfaced again. She may be frightened of him, but she wasn't going to show it.
"You're right of course," he said, making an exaggerated bow. "By your leave, Milady."
He grinned, and walked down the hall, leaving Claire staring at his back. Stomping her foot impatiently, she went back into her room and slammed the door. The sound of his laughter could be heard down the hallway as Lucien continued into the club.
He was laughing at her! Claire leaned against the door listening as his laughter disappeared down the hallway. She should have listened when her instincts told her not to trust him, to run. Sadly she walked over to the bed and picked up the robe she had casually tossed there, and walked toward the bathroom. She was too tired to fight him tonight. Tonight she would sleep. Tomorrow she would show him that she was not a child to be scolded.
As she passed the wardrobe a flash of blue caught her eye. Suddenly she stopped, a smile slowly lit up her face. Claire hurried into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Humming softly to herself, she quickly stripped and stepped under the running water.
"Pretty straight forward if you ask me. TOD about 2 hours ago. Cause of death, well you can see for yourself. His neck was broken." Dr. Natalie Lambert said, stripping off her gloves. "There are signs of a scuffle, I would say he put up a bit of a fight. He has massive bruising on the neck. We are definitely looking at a murder. Any witnesses?"
Detective Nick Knight looked at the M.E.
"None." he said. "We got an anonymous phone call."
Nat raised an eyebrow. Nick continued,
"The motive wasn't robbery. His ID says his name was Robert Green. We are running a check for a positive ID. I'll let you know if we find anything else."
"I'd better get back and get things started. See you later?" Nat asked.
"I'll check in at the lab as soon as I can." Nick said taking hold of her hand and giving it a squeeze. "I want to look around a bit more. Maybe I can turn a witness."
Nick looked around him. Finding a witness wouldn't be easy, not here. Most of the buildings in this area looked pretty deserted. All but one, the Raven. He had an uneasy feeling about this case. Walking back to the Caddy, he climbed in, started it up and drove off.
Claire slept peacefully for the first time in weeks. She felt safe in this strange place. She didn't know why, nor did she care. As she drafted off to sleep, she told herself that she would just enjoy the feeling while it lasted. It was late afternoon of the next day when she awoke.
Opening her eyes slowly, she looked around. Where was she? Little by little the memories flooded back into her mind. Quickly she pulled the blankets off and padded her way to the bathroom. She splashed her face with water and looked up into the mirror. She looked a mess. Reaching for her hairbrush, she ran it lightly through her hair and walked back out into the bedroom.
On the bed was a tray and a note. The tray held her dinner and a small silver vase containing a single white rose. Claire picked up the note. It read :
If you require anything further pull the cord beside the bed. You are to remain in your room, I'll look in on you later. Lucien LaCroix
"You are to remain in your room." Claire read the note again.
Was she a child to be sent to her room? Claire's temper flared. She would not be ordered around by him or anyone else. Walking to the armoire she pulled out a dress and laid it on the bed. Finding shoes and a bag to match, Claire prepared to join LaCroix in the club. How dare he tell her where she could and could not go. Claire hurriedly showered and dressed. Pulling on her shoes she walked to the bathroom, brushing her still damp hair as she went. She looked at herself in mirror.
She had chosen a dress made of sapphire blue silk that clung to every curve of her body. Smiling she walked back into the bedroom and picked up her purse. Claire walked across the room and opened the door. In the distance she could hear music and voices coming from the club. She took a deep breath and walked slowly toward the sound. Standing in the shadows of the doorway, she looked around. It was still early but the club was already crowded. Spotting LaCroix sitting in his glass booth, Claire stepped out of the shadows.
Walking slowly and deliberately toward him, she smiled and passed the booth without a word. Claire made her way to the bar and ordered a drink. Glass in hand, she walked over to a small table. Seating herself within view of LaCroix, she slowly sipped her drink. Suddenly she felt someone watching her. She looked at the glass booth. It wasn't LaCroix, he was busy with his broadcast. Scanning the room, she made eye contact with a tall, blonde man standing at the bar. Glancing quickly at the booth, she walked over and stood next to the man .
"Hi," she said, smiling up at him.
She ordered another drink and returned to her table. Claire sat toying with the glass. She could feel her face flushing. She wasn't use to drinking. The room felt warm. She sipped her drink and looked over toward LaCroix. He was no longer in the booth. Where was he? Claire looked around the room. Lucien was standing at the bar talking to the blonde man. Lifting the glass to her lips, Claire finished her drink in one swallow.
"Oh!" she thought, "that burns."
Her eyes watered and she coughed slightly. How could people do this night after night? She needed a glass of water. Standing on unsteady feet, she began walking towards the bar. The room began to spin. Claire looked up and saw LaCroix smile. That smile, that smug, self-satisfied smile. How she hated that smile.
Claire turned abruptly and walked over to a man standing nearby.
"Dance with me?" she asked him, her voice slurred.
The man looked down at her and nodded. Taking him by the hand she led him to the center of the floor. She reached up and put her arms around his neck and began swaying with the music. She pressed herself against him as he put his arms around her waist. She closed her eyes and lost herself to the music.
"Why must you always come to me when some petty criminal is killed."LaCroix asked.
Nick looked at the older man.
"Because you know something about it. I'm sure of it."
"Really Nicholas, this is growing tiresome. If you suspect me then make your arrest. Otherwise, leave me in peace."
LaCroix lifted a wineglass to his lips and took a sip.
"You really must try this. It's an amusing little. . ."
He stopped in mid sentence, his gaze fixed on the couple out on the dance floor.
"Whatever does she think she's doing?"
LaCroix walked quickly across the floor and grabbed Claire by the arm, pulling her away from her dance partner. Claire opened her eyes and looked up.
"Do you want to dance with me?" she purred as she reached up to put her arms around his neck.
"I most certainly do not." he said angrily. "What are you doing?"
"I'm having fun", Claire said fuzzily, humming off key, "What does it look like I'm doing."
She gave him an uncertain smile.
"You're intoxicated. How am I supposed to protect you if you do things like this. Don't you realize you could be putting yourself in danger?"
"That's your problem." she shrugged, "You're supposed to protect me, so protect." she giggled, her arms entwined around his neck.
"Protect you? Protect you from what?" Nick asked.
Standing behind LaCroix he had overheard the conversation. Lucien turned and glared at him.
"Nicholas, I have no time for this." he said as he attempted to remove Claire's arms from around his neck.
"He's protecting me from James." she said. "Isn't that right, Lush-i-an."
She patted his chest.
Nick stifled a laugh. A look of panic crossed her face.
"You won't let him get me, will you?" Claire began to cry. "You promised. You said you'd help me." she sobbed.
"If he promised to help then I'm sure he will." Nick said, amused at the situation. "Suppose you tell me about James, I'd like to help too."
Claire leaned toward Nick.
"Sshhh! Nobody is supposed to know." she said, putting a finger to her lips. "Lush-i-an is gonna be my guardian angel. He's gonna take care of James for me." she giggled. "He tol' me so."
"Claire!" LaCroix said, visibly angry.
Claire looked up at him.
"Oops. I said something I shouldn't have, didn't I? I promise, I won't talk no more."
Claire stood shakily in front of them. A look of distress crossed her face.
"Oh my," she said. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
LaCroix motioned for Alma. Propping up the younger woman, Alma hurried Claire back to her room. Moments later Alma returned.
"She's passed out on her bed." she reported. "I think she'll be out for a while."
A look of relief appeared on LaCroix's face. Walking back to the bar, he reached for his glass and downed its contents. Reaching for the bottle he refilled his glass and drank again.
"Guardian angel?" Nick laughed. "That's a new one. And who is James?" he asked.
Nick sat and listened as LaCroix told him the events of the past days. Looking up at his master, the younger man's eyes took on a worried look.
"You should have sent her to the police." he said.
"The police have not been able to protect her. All she got from them was empty promises." Lucien paced the floor as he spoke.
"What is this girl to you?" Nick asked.
"What do you mean?" LaCroix demanded. "She amuses me that's all."
"I think its more than that LaCroix. I saw the concern on your face when you thought she had put herself in danger. I saw the way you looked at every stranger who entered the Raven tonight. This girl is more than an amusement." Nick stood and put his hand on Lucien's arm. "I saw the way you look at her. It is more and you know it."
"NO!" LaCroix growled, shrugging off his son's hand. "Its not what you think. She amuses me, that's all. When she ceases to amuse me, I'll discard her. It's nothing more."
"You love her, don't you?" Nick asked, studying LaCroix's face.
A look of anguish filled Lucien's face.
"Yes." he whispered. "but I cannot, I will not accept it. It brought me nothing but pain before and I will not allow that again."
"Then she doesn't know?" Nick could hear the suffering in his father's words.
"No." Lucien said flatly.
Claire woke the next morning. Opening her eyes, she winced at the light coming through the window. Her head ached and her mouth felt as if it were full of cotton. Pulling back the blankets she realized that she had been completely undressed. Quickly she pulled on her robe and walked over to the window.
Claire pulled the shutters closed and locked them tight. She stood there for a moment, her hand on her forehead, remembering her actions from the night before.
"How could I be so stupid?" she said out loud.
Walking into the bathroom she turned on the shower. Stripping off the robe, she stepped under the warm water. Tears began to form in her eyes. She had put herself in danger this time. She remembered telling someone about James. How could she be so reckless? Lucien had offered her his help, and now he could be in danger as well. When would she learn to think before acting? That had always been her trouble. She was impulsive.
"No more!", she said to herself. She would just have to learn to be more cautious. "Next time....", she thought.
But would there be a next time? If James had sent someone after her, then he probably knew she was here. She had only added fuel to the fire with her drunken babbling. Claire knew what she must do. She had to leave, to find another place to hide. The thought of leaving this place frightened her. She liked it here. It had only been a few days, but as strange as it seemed, she felt at home here. For the first time in years she felt as if she belonged. And Lucien had been kind enough to offer her his protection.
"Lucien", she thought. There was something about him, she couldn't quite put it into words, but... "NO!" she said."I can't even think about it. I've done enough already. Better to leave, then to put him in further danger."
Claire turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. Wrapping her hair in a towel, she put on her robe and walked back to the bedroom. She got out her suitcases and put them on the bed. Claire pulled on a pair of sweats and an old t-shirt. Opening the door, she walked out into the hallway.
The building was quiet and empty. She walked into the club and went behind the bar. Opening the beer fridge, she pulled out a bottle of orange juice. Her mind was racing, planning her exit. She didn't here LaCroix enter.
"Up a little early aren't we?" he said.
His words echoing through the large room. Claire started and almost dropped the bottle.
"Must you do that?" she asked angrily. "Can't you announce yourself without scaring a body to death?"
"You look terrible." he said, a wicked smile on his lips. "A little hungover are we?"
"Thanks, you're too kind." she said sarcastically as she returned the bottle to its home. Then she took a deep breath and faced him. "About last night." she said softly. "I'm sorry, it was a foolish thing to do. But I was angry. I'm not a child, you know."
"Yes, I noticed." he said, seating himself in front of the bar. "That dress you were wearing certainly removed any doubt."
Claire could feel herself blushing. She walked around the bar and sat down next to him.
"I've decided to leave. I've put you in danger as well. I can't stay here any longer. It's me James wants, I couldn't live with myself if he hurt anyone else."
Claire looked up into Lucien's face. There was a strange, almost hurt look in his eyes. Reaching out, she touched his cheek. Instinctively, LaCroix pulled away from her touch. Claire sat there looking into his eyes.
"I'm sorry." she said. She took his hand in hers. "I'll miss you. You've been so kind to me. I just wanted to say Thank You."
Without thinking, Claire leaned toward him and gently kissed his lips. She got up from the stool and started to leave. Lucien reached out and took hold of her arm.
"Claire." he whispered.
She turned and looked at him. There was a light in his eyes she had not noticed before. Lucien pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
"I'm afraid I can't let you go." he said, as he released her lips. "Don't worry. I can protect myself, and you from James. We'll go to Europe, if you wish." he said. "I have friends who will help us. I could show you things no mortal has ever seen."
Lucien held her close to him. He would not give her up. He'd walked away from love once, he would not do so again. Claire looked up into his face.
"Is this possible?" she asked herself.
She had known him such a short time, yet her heart told her that she loved him. He was willing to leave everything to be with her, to assure her safety. Claire put her arms around his neck and drew his lips to hers. She lost herself in the feelings he awakened in her. Again and again they kissed. She had never known love like this.
"Oh," she moaned as Lucien's lips left hers and traveled down her neck. "It been so long, you feel so good." She pressed her body closer to his. "Is this real?"
"Yes, Claire, its real." He breathed into her ear, before returning to her lips
. Claire's body was responding to Lucien's caresses with a fury that surprised her.
"Make love to me Lucien" she begged.
LaCroix stiffened, "I cannot." he said sadly.
Claire drew back from him, a hurt look on her face.
"Why? It's James, isn't it?" she said.
"No, my dearest love. It is because of what I am."
Claire looked at him, puzzled. "Whatever it is, we'll work through it." She said, "I know we can overcome any obstacle."
LaCroix released her from his arms and walked across the room.
"It's not that simple," he said. Turning to face her, his eyes golden and his fangs bared. "I am not like you, a mortal." he growled. "This is what I am."
"That's how you could be so sure that James wouldn't harm me. Isn't it? You were going to kill him." Claire said in a whisper. "You're a.... a.."
"Vampire" he said, his eyes returning to normal. "a killer, a monster. Are those the words you're searching for?"
He turned from her, unwilling to see the look of horror and hatred on her face he knew would be there. Claire didn't know what to do. She never in her wildest dreams expected this. She had fallen in love with a vampire. But that wasn't possible, they didn't exist. Yet here he was. She felt numb. How could this be happening?
She looked at him as he stood with his back to her. Her mind told her to run, to escape, yet she loved him. Vampire or not, she loved him. She knew she held his happiness in her hands. Her heart went out to him. She wanted him, no matter what happened she wanted to be with him.
Summoning her courage, she walked to where he stood.
"Lucien", she whispered. "Look at me."
LaCroix stood motionless, his heart full of anguish. How could he face an eternity alone after knowing love again. Slowly he turned and looked at Claire.
"Lucien" she began. " I love you, I don't care what you are, I only want to be with you."
LaCroix looked at Claire. He reached out and pulled her into his arms. Claire put her arms around his neck.
"My precious one." he said, as his lips met hers.
"Incompetent fools!" a voice snarled. "How could they botch such a simple job."
His dark eyes flashed with anger.
"I all but handed her to them on a platter! Do I have to do it myself?"
He threw the newspaper down in disgust. He walked over to the desk and picked up the telephone.
"This is Hilliard. Book me on the next flight to Toronto."
James slammed down the receiver and stormed out the door.
Claire and Lucien spent the afternoon making plans. The club would be left in Miklos' capable hands. Together they would tour Europe. He would teach her the ways of the night, and then he would bring her across when she was ready. LaCroix was taking no chances this time. He would give her the choice. Later that night they would tell Nicholas of their plans. Lucien would release Nick from his control, and he and Claire would spend the rest of eternity together.
Claire never imagined she could be so happy. Several times she sought the shelter of Lucien's arms to reassure herself it was in fact true. The sun was beginning to set and the club would soon be open. Lucien began the preparation for opening. He would use a recorded broadcast and he and Claire would be on their way after midnight. Claire returned to her room and packed her bags. She was so excited that she couldn't sit still. She hurried to find Lucien and help with the last minute details of the trip. She opened the door to his office and found him talking on the phone. He was making travel arrangements with a shipping company to send several large trunks to Europe.
Claire giggled, she knew what these were for. LaCroix looked at her frowning. Putting her hand over her mouth, she stifled another giggle and went over to kiss him on the cheek. LaCroix placed the receiver back in its cradle and gathered her into his arms. He kissed her forehead and looked down at her small face. Her eyes were lit with love and happiness. He could easily imagine eternity with her. She was so unpredictable, he would never grow tired of her. Claire untangled herself from his arms and walked to the window. It was dark outside. She was beginning to love the night and all it held. Turning around she smiled wickedly at him.
"You are such a passionate man, we have so many things to discover together. Will eternity be long enough do you think? What will we do with all that time?" she laughed.
"You are incorrigible." he said smiling.
He took a step towards Claire as a blinding flash erupted from behind her.
Lucien stood over her broken and twisted body. His eyes glowed red. Ignoring his own injuries he knelt down and gently took her in his arms.
"Claire", he whispered, "Can you hear me? Speak to me."
Opening her eyes she looked up at him.
"Lucien", she gasped. "I love you. Never forget that." She reached up and touched his face tenderly. "I wanted to spend eternity with you."
Her face contorted in pain as she closed her eyes. Her breathing became labored as she clung to life.
"No!" he growled. "I won't lose you. I can't let it happen."
Only moments before Claire had been laughing, her eyes sparkling with life. In the blink of an eye this had all changed. A bomb had ripped through the room where they were standing, crushing and mangling everything within reach. Claire had been standing between him and the blast. She was lifted and tossed across the room like a rag doll, only to be left at his feet a crumpled mass. Pulling her closer, Lucien bared his fangs and sunk them into the soft flesh of her neck. He could feel her slipping away from him as he drank of her life's blood.
"Please," his mind begged, "Don't leave me."
He opened his wrist and held it to her still mouth. He had brought many people across, all of them far less worthy than Claire. This had to work, it couldn't be too late. Raising his head, he looked at her. She was on the brink between life and death.
"Claire", he whispered. "Come back to me."
She stirred slightly, her mouth slowly beginning to suck LaCroix's blood. The pressure of her mouth became greater as Lucien felt his own blood being drained away. He would not pull his wrist away, not matter how much she took. Finally her drinking slowed and then she sagged in his arms. Her heart had stopped yet she still breathed. She had returned to him. She would sleep, then he would introduce her to this new life he had given her.
Lucien could hear the police sirens coming closer. Wrenching her free of the wreckage, he pulled her up into his arms, and hurried outside into the darkness. He needed to find a safe place for her. Then he would deal with James. A movement caught his eye as a car pulled away from the curb and sped off into the night.
Nick was sitting at his desk going over some reports and catching up on some long overdue paper work. A sensation like a bolt of lightning flashed through him. He was overcome with a wave of rage and pain that gripped him like a vice, leaving him breathless. He tried to stand, but could not feel his feet. This was unlike anything he had felt before. He could feel himself beginning to change, his jaw aching as he struggled to keep his fangs from descending. Summoning all his strength, he managed to pull himself out of the chair.
"LaCroix!" his mind shouted.
At that moment Capt. Reese popped his head out of his office.
"Knight,Vetter," he shouted. "In my office." Tracy and Nick hurried from their desks and went into the Captain's office. "We've had an explosion, may be a bomb. Some little off the wall club called the Raven." Reese explained. "Fire Department and ambulances are there now, ME's in route. I need you there asap. Get moving"
"We're on it", Nick said, rushing out the door, coat in hand.
"Why would anyone want to bomb the Raven ?" Tracy asked, pulling open the door to the Caddy.
Nick already knew the answer. He only hoped he could find James before LaCroix did.
LaCroix gently laid Claire on the bed. He had not used this house in many years, she would be safe until he returned. He now could turn his attention to James. He would pay for this and pay dearly. Lucien summoned Alma to stand watch and took to flight, the image of that car and driver burned into his memory. He would find this man and he would have his revenge.
Flying over the city he spotted the car parked outside a small hotel. Landing quietly in the shadows, he made his way into the lobby. The desk clerk was easy to persuade and soon Lucien was on his way with a name and room number. Moving at top speed he made his way onto the balcony. Slowly he slid open the glass door and entered the room. James was sitting with his back to the door, phone in hand, barking out orders to his secretary. LaCroix pulled the cord from the wall and stood behind him. James turned and looked at him.
"Who are you? How did you get in here?"
Reaching for a gun, James pointed it at him. LaCroix laughed and moved towards him. James pulled the trigger again and again, emptying the weapon into Lucien's chest. LaCroix growled, his eyes flaming with anger. Grabbing the gun from James' hand he threw it across the room and picked him up by the throat. Crossing the room, he took to the air dragging James with him.
Nick surveyed the damage to the Raven. It was a small but powerful bomb. It had not only destroyed several rooms but had taken out windows in the surrounding buildings. Tracy walked over to her partner.
"No fatalities, only a few minor injuries. Luckily there was only a small crowd here, they had only opened a few minutes before the blast."
Nick looked around. "Where was LaCroix?" he wondered. "And where was Claire?"
Nick closed his eyes and stretched his mind out along the bond between them. He could feel the anger that emanated from his master.
"Trace," he said. "Can you take care of things here for a few minutes? I have something I need to check out."
Before she could answer, Nick disappeared around the corner of the building. Looking around to make sure that no one could see, he took to the air, following his link to LaCroix. He found him outside a small brick house. Landing nearby he made his way to Lucien and his hapless victim.
"LaCroix!" Nick shouted. "He's a mortal. Let mortal justice take care of him."
"Mortal justice did not protect Claire. He must pay the price."
He turned to the younger vampire, his eyes glowing blood red.
"What you require of me is mercy, Nicholas," he growled. "and that is a quality I do not possess."
Before Nick could reach him, LaCroix lifted James over his head and flung him into the brick wall. In the space of a heartbeat Nick placed himself between the two men. Lucien rushed towards Nick and cast him aside.
Grabbing James, LaCroix picked him up and carried him inside.
Claire opened her eyes. She felt pain, but it was beginning to ease. It was being replaced by another feeling, a hunger. This was like nothing she had ever experienced. It was an all consuming need that must be fulfilled. She sat up and looked around. Alma was standing next to the bed. "Where was she?" Claire looked down at her tattered, bloody clothing.
"An explosion!" she thought. "There must have been an explosion. James had found her."
She tried to get up only to be stopped by Alma.
"You are to stay here until LaCroix returns." Alma told her. "He will explain everything and see to your needs."
"Lucien!" Claire said, "Where is he? Is he alright?"
Alma shrugged. "All I know is that you're supposed to stay here until he gets back."
The women's attention was drawn to a noise outside the house. The door to the room where they were swung open and LaCroix entered carrying his helpless captive with him.
"James." Claire breathed, her eyes turning gold.
"Yes," LaCroix said, his face contorted in anger. "It is time for your first feed, my love. I have brought you what you require."
"First feed?" Claire asked. Suddenly everything made sense. "You mean?"
"I'm afraid its true. I had to bring you across to save you. The explosion would have killed you if I hadn't." Lucien told her, his eyes returning to normal. "I know it is not what we planned, but there was nothing else I could do. He robbed us of that choice." he said, throwing James to the floor.
Claire looked down at him. Her hunger was almost beyond control. The smell of his blood filled the room. Claire got up off the bed and walked to where James lay. Looking at Lucien and then at James, she kneeled on the floor, and baring her fangs, sunk them into his neck.
Claire drank deeply as she struggled to satisfy her thirst. The memory of all James victims flooded her mind, she shrank in horror but her hunger drove her on. Nick entered the room and realized he was too late.
"Claire!" he shouted.
Claire raised her head and looked up at him. "It was what he deserved." she said. "He had taken so many lives, even more than I suspected and escaped justice. Those lives have been avenged and I am finally free of him."
"But the explosion." Nick said.
"Your suspect escaped. Just another unsolved act of terrorism." LaCroix suggested. "I'll dispose of this." he said, pointing to James' body. "After all you have no murder case detective. There is no murderer."
Nick looked puzzled. "Claire, she. . . "
LaCroix smiled. "If you check the records detective, I'm sure you will find that Claire Brienne died three years ago, shortly after her husband was acquitted of murder."
Nick looked at LaCroix and then at Claire. Frowning sadly, he turned and walked away.
It was a warm night. The moon was full and cast its light on the couple standing at the rubble that was formerly "The Raven". The man bent and tossed a single white rose upon the wreckage.
"Goodbye," he whispered.
The couple shared a loving embrace and flew off into the night.