copyright 1998 by Conner McBride

DISCLAIMER:  You know the drill.  Typical annoying disclaimers apply :)

 Nick walked Laura to the rooming house where she was staying.  His vampire ears could pick up the girlish giggling and squeals from upstairs.  He chuckled.  Some ridiculous conversation about Spanish sailors.  He turned his attention back to Laura.  She was gazing up at the stars.  He bent close to her ears, inhaling lemon blossoms and rain.  "What do you see, Laurette?"
 She jumped back, startled at his closeness...and aggravated by his enjoyment of scaring her.  Smacking his arm, she said, "That's not funny."
 He bowed by way of apology.  "Are you gazing at the stars?"
 "Yeah.  My dad used to like to find constellations.  He made it a game to find as many as we could, you know?"  Nick didn't miss the tremble in her voice.  As if by lightening, she was his happy young companion again.  "See, there's Cassiopeia.  She's right side up this time of year.  And Scorpio, and there's Ursa Major and Ursa Minor-"
 "Laura, it's okay to talk to me."  Nick attempted to reach her. His immortal heart reached out to her.  Eighteen was too young to learn to hide emotions.
 Laura shrugged.  "Nothing's wrong."
 "Laura, don't try to fight the world now.  You'll do enough of that as you get older."
 She stared at him.  "Sometimes, I wish I was a star.  Then I'd be cold and beautiful and nothing could hurt me.  Immortal."
 The vampire touched her cheek, looking for the youthful gaiety which was not there.  She did not realize what she was wishing for. "I hate to think what would become of Laura Holt if she could not feel.  Existing eternally is not living, Laura."
 "Maybe, maybe not.  But it probably hurts a lot less when people leave.  I don't understand-I didn't do anything-"
Her voice began to crack.  Nick held out his arm.  The young mortal threw herself against his chest as he rocked her slightly, letting her cry out rage and pain over the father whom Vietnam had taken from her small world.  Blood tears fell into Laura's hair as Nick let himself weep for the loss of a man's soul to the horrors of war...and its silent victims.  He hugged Laura tighter.

Harry mentally girded himself up for the robbery.  He and Daniel drove in silence to the museum.  He wished he could say his mind was on the job, but in all truthfulness, his mind was on a nameless young woman with eyes like dying fires.  /Ah, hell mate!  This is not the time to be thinking of that./
Hell, even Daniel could see his mind had been elsewhere.  Still, he couldn't help but wonder what she had been doing with a man old enough to be her father...okay, her older brother.  It occurred to him that maybe this Nicholas LeCavalier was out to seduce the girl, assumming he hadn't done so already.  Then again, maybe she was kept by him.  Harry swallowed the disgust which came with that thought.  He didn't like to think about it, but many girls from the old days had gotten out of the gutter by playing mistress to some rich snot.  It wouldn't be the first time a young girl with no skills and plenty of poverty had been forced into that position.  He shook his head.  Somehow, that answer wasn't quite right either.

 Nick could see her sitting in the window, her knees pulled up to her chest and her long, dark hair tumbling about her face. She was ignoring the pack of girls crowding the room and staring up at the distant stars.  He shook his head.  She would heal, in time.  Nick felt a familiar presence behind him.
 "Lacroix, what the hell do you want?"
 The elder vampire chuckled darkly.  "My, my Nicholas.  Is that the most civil reception you could initiate for your father?"
 "I told you once to stay out of my life.  I won't be a part of your killing."
 Lucien Lacroix leaned close to his son's ear.  "Have you forgotten what you are Nicholas?  And such a tender young quarry you seem to have found; or have you forgotten the sweet taste of the blood of the young?"
 Nick turned on his maker, slamming him against the wall, his eyes amber and his fangs bared.  "Leave Laura alone Lacroix!  I will not allow you to take her humanity!"
 Lacroix smiled mockingly.  "I've seen her.  So wild and untamed, and yet as gentle as a dove," his smile grew wider.  "Though not as pure, judging from those secrets being revealed upstairs."
 Nicholas grabbed him by the throat.  "I hear the bloodlust in you, Lacroix.  Touch Laura, and I will avenge her."
 "Deny her then, Nicholas."  Hate and fury poured out of the ancient vampire's mouth.  "Deny that her scent arouses YOUR bloodlust, that her trusting eyes do not make you desire that slender throat.  Deny that you wish to take her innocence of the sweet, intoxicating darkness we know!"
 The younger one tightened his grip.  "I wish to protect her innocence.  So like Fleur-"
 Lucien Lacroix snarled as he ripped Nick's hands from his throat.  "Don't compare that arrogant child with Fleur's pure heart!  I'll leave you to your little urchin, Nicholas.  I will enjoy watching you fight the urge to drain every drop of her blood."  He moved back into the shadows.  "Rather like Nakabov's Humbert Humbert, only in a much more immortal sense."  The older vampire took to the sky as Nicholas seethed in wordless rage.
 Nick took one last look up his little dreamer, making a silent vow of protection as he levitated.  His mind now shifted to the Rajah's Star and its promises of the regaining of his soul.
(*Note-Nabakov refers to Vladimir Nabakov, author of LOLITA.  Humbert Humbert was the stepfather, main character in the book.)

 Harry silently lowered himself with the rappelling cord, glancing around quickly to see if anyone was around.  Daniel said he only had about twenty minutes to get there, get the jewel, and get out.  He willed away the nervousness.  Someone else was here.  He didn't know why, but he just had a feeling.

 Nick floated on air in front of the guard, taking in the sound of his heartbeat.  His voice become hypnotic.  "You will open the door and let me in."
 The guard turned around, unlocking the door and holding it open.

 Lacroix watched the girl as she slept, her dark hair fanned out on her pillow.  Silvery moonbeams bounced off her peaceful face in a gentle dance.  What had Nicholas said her name was?  Ah, yes.  Laura.  Her soul shined on her face as her sleep dispelled the mask she held up to the world.  Lacroix saw her soul, shining and turbulent, a pure light which entranced admirers to follow.  She was like Fleur, radiant and bright, looking to the stars for her destiny.  Fleur.  A blood tear made a crimson trail down his cheek.  For her memory, he would leave this dark elfling to the light.

 Nick pulled the glass off the case, unleashing the glowing beauty of the Rajah's Star.  His hands trembled as he cradled the gem with reverence.  Maybe this would give him his soul back and he would be able to stand in sunlight once more.  His hearing picked up another heartbeat.  He looked up to stare at a panther-like form, sleek and dark.  A pair of sapphire eyes widened in surprise.

 Harry gasped at the sight of the blond man he had seen earlier cradling the jewel.  SO this was the other thief there had been a rumor about!  Harry's mind tried to process the implications of the situation.  Nicholas LeCavalier made an angry sound and burst past him with incredible speed.  The alarms went off.  /Bloody hell!/

 Nick took off through the skylight, soaring through the night sky with incredible speed.  The Rajah's Star was still safe in his hands.  His anger grew as he remembered the other thief.  That boy who had stared at Laura with such lusting interest was a common thief.  He would not have her.

 Harry rappelled off the roof and ran to the car, slamming the door behind him as he got in.  "Get us out of here Daniel!"
 Daniel obligingly put the pedal to the floor.  "Harry, what happened?"
 "The other thief?  The one we heard a rumor about?"  Daniel nodded, silently asking him to continue.  "He was there when I got it.  I saw him take the jewel."
 Shaking his head, Harry just sat back, trying to regain his breath.  His mind drifted to a petite girl.  She was his partner!  Harry's head was spinning.  She didn't come across as a thief, and yet she was paired up with the one who had stolen one of the world's most valuable treasures!  /Little minx!/
 A slow, appreciative smile played on his face.  Maybe there was a way to get the jewel back...and conjure up a pleasant memory in the process.  His guilt twinged his conscience, but he quickly pushed it back.  After all, if she was a thief, paired with a thief, she knew the rules of the game.
 "Let's get back and regroup, Daniel."
 He closed his eyes, his mind filled with smoky eyes and darkness.  Oh yes, getting the Rajah's Star back could prove to be ver pleasant.  Long dark hair came into his mind.  Very pleasant indeed...