"So, how old might the lady I'm walking be, eh? I mean, I'm not going to be hauled off by the coppers or anything, am I?" Laura smirked. "If you're asking if I'm legal, I am. Turned eighteen in January." Unknowingly, the girl had taken a load off Harry's mind. Although not having an overburdensome conscience where ethics were concerned, Harry had no desire to dabble in pedophilia, ala Karl Maulden's Humbert Humbert in LOLITA. However, since she was obviously a willing partner with Nicholas whatever-his-last-name-was... "So, you never told me what you're doing walking around Paris alone. This is the city of love, Laura. You're giving it a bad name." "Look, not everybody's here to have a fling!" Laura shrugged off his arm from around her shoulder. Where did this guy get off? Maybe she should tell Nick. Harry felt her shrug off his arm. His Irish temper was beginning to boil. Had this been any other woman, she'd have been putty in his hands by now. This infuriating little witch was so suspicious of his motives, he'd yet to find out anything more than her name. "Look Laura, I'm not out to get ya to take a tumble, so why don't you get off yer high horse and tumble down to Earth with the rest of us mere mortals?" His anger was bringing out his brouge in rare form. Laura Holt, for her part, was standing there, wide-eyed and dropped jaw, her dark eyes blazing. "Why don't I---listen Irish," she jabbed a long, slender finger into his chest. "I didn't ask for company, you came up to me! Furthermore, I'm not the one who's been trying to cop a feel for the past hour. That and you've been fishing like crazy for information about Nick and I wanna know why!" Her furious comeback left Harry standing there with his jaw on the pavement. There they stood on the sidewalk of a Parisian street, toe to toe, like participants in a modern comedy of errors. Harry noticed people were stopping to stare. Embarrassed, he affected a nonchalance he didn't feel. "Look angel, I'm having no time to sit here and argue with you, so I'm going to jot off. Then you don't have to worry about being taken advantage of." Laura shrugged, turning around. "Fine!" "Fine!" He yelled back. A passerby began chuckling. Unfortunately, that was all it took for Laura's gunpowder fury to turn on him. "What are you looking at, buddy?!" Harry's eyes widened. That passerby was bloody familiar looking. Edward Ashby. /What the bloody hell is he doing around here?/ Laura countinued berating Ashby and stalked off, flipping off Harry as well. Seeing that the little drama was over, the crowd went on about their merry ways. Harry grabbed Ashby by the arm before he could slink away. Shoving him against the wall, Harry growled, "Alright Eddie! Why are y'following me?" Ashby chuckled. "Harry, m'lad, I never knew a woman who could leave you so flustered. My compliments to the little girl. I'd 'ate to 'ave to 'urt 'er." His Cockney came out from under his polished manners. Harry heard the unspoken threat behind his genial facade. "Alright mate, what are y'driving at?" Edward Ashby shook him off. "The Rajah's Star was supposed to be my job and I want to know why you snozzled me out of it. That wasn't a very nice thing to do, mate, and you're going to pay for it." "Snozzled you out of---hold it Ashby! I didn't take that jewel! I wanted to, but someone got there before I did." "Fine. Tell me who took it and you're off the hook." Still annoyed at Laura, Harry was tempted to say who the real thieves were, but something stopped him. True, he and Laura had been at it like cats and dogs, but he also knew how Ashby dealt with women. He wouldn't hand over a dog he didn't like to Edward Ashby. "I have no idea." Ashby grinned. "Sure you don't. Stick close to the little lass, 'arry. Be seeing you." With a smirk, Ashby walked off. Harry's jaw tightened. Ashby would hurt Laura if he thought he had the Rajah's Star. And Laura and Nicholas de Brebant were the real thieves. Harry looked towards the cafe. Her long thick waves were falling in front of her face and she appeared to be heavily engrossed in a book. He almost grinned at the quaint picture she created. /Why can't I stay mad at her?/ He looked around. Edward Ashby was gone. Looking at Laura again, he made up his mind to stick with her. She may be as tempermental as hell, but there was an innocent kindness to her which touched him, made him want to protect her, despite her protests. He could almost understand the look he had seen in Nicholas de Brebant's eyes. *** Ashby turned around as soon as he rounded the corner. Harry could say whatever he liked, but he still had stolen that jewel. No one else was capable of planning and executing such a brilliant heist like Daniel and Harry. He thought back to the girl. If he couldn't get Harry to hand over that jewel, he'd just take another one. She was a pretty little thing, if a bit young. He chuckled, heading for the back entrance of the little cafe he had seen Harry scampering to with his tail between his legs. That little witch had him around her tiny finger in a jolly good way! *** Laura felt a pair of eyes on her. /Maybe it's Nick./ She looked up into a pair of eyes as blue and fathomless as the ocean. /No such luck./ "Go away." She turned back to reading DUNE. Harry grimaced. Her temper was still flaring. He pulled up a chair to sit next to her. Mimicing her American style, he offered a hand. "Truce?" Her dark eyes were cold for a second. Reluctantly, she let a smile grace her lips. "Truce." Her tiny hand slipped into his. "Guess I tend to be a bit paranoid sometimes. My dad was like that. Always watching. He was in the army." Harry noticed she had a few souvenir art prints on the table. He attempted to break the ice. Picking up the one with water lillies on it, he began to point out certain details. "Rather vivid. Reminds me of a neo-Renaissance. It's a Renoir, his early period." He impressively stated. "No." He did a doubletake of Chaplinesque comedic value. Her tone not only suggested she wasn't taking his opinion at face value, but also, apparently had a few of her own. "Come again?" "Look," she pointed to the print. "The colors, the way they're set up, create alot of shadows." "So?" Laura rolled her eyes. "Sooo---Renoir was more into expressions and muted tones. It's a Monet print. See the use of color to create light and shadow?" Harry grinned. She was a challenge. Hot-tempered, opinionated, intelligent, and a smart-ass to boot. Oh, how he loved a challenge! "Monet, Renoir...six of one, half a dozen of another. Let's have something to eat, shall we? My treat." She laughed before picking up her menu. *** Ashby secretly wanted to gag. It was disgusting the way the lad was fawning over the girl. Harry always did have affinity for the ladies. This one however, was not his usual style. Neither elegant nor beautiful, she was nonetheless holding Harry's rapt attention. Edward Ashby wanted to know why. Maybe Harry and Chalmers hadn't been the ones to steal The Rajah's Star. Maybe the thieves had been Harry and that girl. He hid behind his menu at the table in the back, grimacing as he heard their laughter over something they were talking about. It was going to be a long afternoon. *** "So how does an American tourist know one of the richest recluses in Paris?" Laura's brown eyes narrowed. She liked Harry, but he asked way too many questions, especially about Nick. /Why?/ She may only have known Nick for a day, well, okay, a night, but he had been nothing less than kind and she certainly hadn't known he was loaded! Her mind drifted as Harry talked. What did she really know about Nick? Laura looked up at Harry, unaware of how much older her face suddenly looked. "I know him because he found me." Nick was beautiful, a golden angel of the night, a thousand mysteries which ignited her curiousity and a tortured soul which touched her heart. Her slanted dark eyes were suddenly smoky and her full mouth parted. Nick...for some reason, she could feel him next to her, enveloping her in his arms. *** Nick felt eyes on him. He turned as a dark girl gave to the chase, laughing at him. Nicholas de Brebant felt his hope of humanity eluding him with her fleeing form. He took flight after her, smelling her sweet blood, taunting his senses, filling his nostrils with the heady smell of young sex. His fangs descended as she fell into his amber gaze, screaming not from fear, but from orgasmic excitement. She ran down a long street lit up with torches which burned brighter as he swooped towards her. His hands reached out, brushing against her long ribbons of hair. Nicholas reached to pull his dark elf child to him. She disappeared into mist. He snarled in rage as her laughter floated around him. He soared above the city, eyes widening. He saw her gaze, smoldering with the passions and hunger of life. She stood on the edge of the Eiffel Tower, panting, eyes dilated, heaving breasts, pulsing sex, sweet, rich blood, brilliant pure soul, encompassing light...he extended his arms. Laura flew into infinity, jumping off the ledge, falling, falling, falling... Arms wrapped around her. Nick's hand yanked on her hair, tilting her face up to his, his mouth descending on her open one in a demonic kiss, tasting, touching, tasting deeply, inhaling lemon blossoms and rain. Nicholas ripped his mouth from hers, roaring out his bloodlust. His fangs slid down her slender throat in panting heat, drawing nearer and nearer to her life beat. Plunging into her, tasting, drinking sweet, rich juice, tasting Laura, tightening, reaching deeper, sending her cries higher and higher as her screams became the joyful song to his hard release. "Laurette!" Nicholas sat up, trembling. He struggled to breathe, taking in deep gulps of air. Laura. She had been in his dream and in his nightmarish unreality, his hunger for her innocence, had taken her across into his darkness. Nick fell back against his pillow, panting. /God, what was I thinking? She's a child!/ The dream had been erotic, yet something...Laura had been on the ledge, willingly stepping into nothingness. Nicholas ignored the bloodsweat beading on his forehead. His tongue ran over his fangs, the touch electrifying his senses. He could feel Laura; she was thinking of him. There was a danger around her. Was it he? He saw her dream image in his mind, her laughter turning into screams of terror as she fell into the black abyss of night. Restlessly, Nick stood, staring at himself in the mirror. His paleness was a stark contrast to Laura's darkness. Light and dark, heaven and hell, salvation and damnation. The crimson sparkle of The Rajah's Star caught his eye. Tonight, he would have his chance at redemption.