Arabian Knight

Chapter 6

"Are you convinced now of my love for you?" asked Nick as he ended the kiss and tenderly nuzzled Nat's cheek with his nose.

Natalie was practically speechless. She had often wondered how it would feel to hear such endearing words and to be on the receiving end of something other than a sisterly peck. She decided that she needed another sampling to prove to herself that she wasn't dreaming. "I think I might need a little more convincing," she admitted with a wicked smile.

Nick obliged her, systematically showering her with tiny kisses on her nose, her forehead, each cheek, then finally ending up at her lips once again. He kept it gentle, his tongue teasing hers, making her want more than he was offering at the moment. It surprised him slightly when Natalie became somewhat forceful, grabbing his head and locking him into the kiss. She practically devoured him, giving him little chance to catch his breath now that he realized he needed to breathe on a regular basis. As her mouth feverishly ravaged his, Nat's hands became busy as well, slipping beneath his pajama top to massage his chest.

"Nat, maybe we shouldn't," said Nick when he managed to tear his lips away from hers.

"Shouldn't what?" Natalie replied as her lips found a new target. She began licking and nibbling at his neck, a highly erogenous area as far as Nick was concerned. He let out a soft moan and tilted his head back, luxuriating in her touch.

"You're so beautiful," she murmured in his ear.

"That's suppose to be my line," Nick smiled. His body stiffened and he let out a small gasp when he felt a warm hand burrowing beneath the waistband of his pajamas. "Nat, I don't think that's such a good idea," he warned as he gently grabbed her wrist to stop her explorations.

"Why not? Don't you want me?"

"Oh, Nat. You don't know how hard I've fought to keep my hands and my fangs to myself when I'm alone with you."

"Well, now since we don't have to worry about the fangs anymore...."

When she began kissing him hungrily, it occurred to Nick that he hadn't been the only one fighting to keep his hands to himself for the past few years. He was still somewhat apprehensive, thinking that at any second his vampire traits might be reawakened and he might go on the attack. However, Natalie had no such worries. As her eager hands worked their way down his body, pushing aside silken fabric to get to bare flesh, Nick voiced his concern once again.

"Nat, I think maybe we should wait."

Natalie misinterpreted his comment, assuming that he meant that they should allow a proper amount of time for courtship. "We've been waiting for three years, Nick," she pointed out. "It's okay. It's time." Her lips moved to his throat while her hand moved beneath his waistband again. This time, Nick could no longer fight off her advances. He gave into the sensation of a soft, delicate hand stroking and fondling him into a fevered state of arousal.

The bloodthirsty vampire may have no longer existed, but he had left behind a few of his emotions; one of which was the desire to dominate his victim. What little remained of the beast, suddenly roared to life. The gentle lovemaking that Natalie had been looking forward to became rough and forceful as Nick totally lost control. With swift and frenzied movements, he had Natalie stripped of her sleepwear and pinned beneath him almost before she had time to realize what was happening. The Nick she knew was nowhere to be found. Glaring out from demonic, lust-filled eyes was a total stranger who only had one goal on his mind.

"Nick, listen to me," Natalie spoke in a firm tone, hoping to break through to him. "I want you to make love to me. But you need to go slow, okay? Please! Go slow."

It didn't appear that he heard her, or if he had, her words had absolutely no effect on him. He stared hungrily at her exposed breasts, his breathing heavy and his eyes dark with desire. Nat gingerly reached a trembling hand up to his cheek, careful of his bruised chin, she tilted his face up slightly so that he could focus on her eyes. Her voice insisted that he look at her, and his eyes finally drifted upwards. When her thumb swiped slowly over his lips, she saw his expression begin to soften.

"That's it," Natalie whispered. "I know it's been a long time for you, Nick, but you just need to calm down and take things a little slower. There's no need to rush. I'm not going anywhere. I love you, Nick."

At last, the stranger disappeared and Nick took his place. He lovingly kissed the hand that caressed his cheek, then dipped his head down to kiss his lover's lips. "I love you too, Nat," he replied with a tender smile. "I'm sorry I kind of lost it there for a moment. It's just been so long since--"

"It's okay. I understand."

"So, you still want to?"

"Well, we're kind of half way there already," Nat grinned, indicating their current positions.

"And you want it slow?"

Natalie blushed and nodded slightly. "It's been a long time for me too, so I think slow would be good."

Nick winked slyly and said, "I can do slow."

As it turned out, Nick could do slow very well. He'd had nearly eight centuries and countless women on which to perfect his technique. As he kissed and licked practically every inch of her body, Natalie couldn't help but wonder how much of his experience in pleasing women had come from Janette. But after he had her screaming in ecstasy for the third time in a row, she pushed all thoughts of Janette from her mind. Nick was hers now along with that very talented mouth and those wonderful, nimble fingers of his. By the time he finally entered her, she was more than ready and the word 'slow' was no longer a part of her vocabulary.

As he neared his peak, another of Nick's old, vampire attributes came to surface. Although there was no desire for blood, the compulsion to bite during climax was still strong. When Natalie felt Nick attempting to sink his teeth into her neck, she grabbed a handful of his hair and tried unsuccessfully to pull him away.

"No biting, Nick!" Nat screamed in his ear. "No biting!"

Apparently, he heard and understood her command. The pressure of his teeth on her skin disappeared, replaced by a gentle suckling action. After another moment, his body stiffened as he moaned loudly, then he collapsed limply on top of her and passed out cold.

Nick awoke half an hour later to the smell of food filling his nostrils. He opened his eyes to see Natalie parking a meal cart beside the bed. She was dressed in cotton shorts and a tank top, with a towel wrapped about her damp hair. After removing the covers from several dishes, she glanced over to her drowsy companion and beamed a 100-watt smile.

"Hi! I was just getting ready to wake you."

"I fell asleep?" Nick asked groggily as he struggled to sit up.

Natalie was quick to give him a hand, reaching for the pillows and stuffing them behind his back. "You fainted," she informed him as she sat down on the edge of the bed facing him.

"Fainted? Is that normal? I mean, for a normal mortal man?"

"No, not for a normal mortal man, but I can see it happening to someone who's recently suffered some blood loss and who hasn't had any nourishment since last night. It's my fault, Nick, I should have known better. I should have listened to you when you wanted to wait. I'm sorry."

"Nat," Nick spoke as he reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. "You don't ever have to apologize for wanting to make love to me."

Natalie grinned bashfully and nodded her head in understanding. "Okay. But, if in the future I do and you don't, I promise I'll behave."

"So will I."

"Well, anyway, how do you feel now?"

Nick made a mental examination of his present condition. He noted that both his injured arm and ankle were throbbing painfully, apparently aggravated by his recent physical activities. He had a mild headache and his empty stomach was cramping from hunger. He started to inform Natalie of all his findings, but was afraid of worrying her unnecessarily. He simply smiled lazily and said, "Like the luckiest man in the world. How about you?"

"Like a brand new woman." Natalie's cheeks blushed a deep rose color as she sheepishly added, "And by the way, you, uh... you really know your stuff. That was quite impressive."

"Except for that," said Nick as he reached out a finger to touch the bruising passion mark he'd left on her neck. Luckily, the skin had not been broken and no permanent damage had been done. "I'm sorry. Old habits, you know."

"Yeah, I know. We'll just have to work on that. But first things first. We'll fill you up with some good old chicken soup, brush up on your pill swallowing, check on that arm and ankle, get you all cleaned up, then you can get a couple more hours of beauty sleep. How's that sound?"

"I'll have to skip the sleep. I need to work on the puzzle."

"The puzzle can wait. Like I said, first things first." Natalie picked up a bowl and spoon and proceeded to hand feed Nick his first meal as a born again mortal.

With his first spoonful, Nick savored the taste and sighed blissfully. "I think I could get use to this."

"What? Chicken soup or me feeding you?"

"Us. You and me together. I could get used to it."

Natalie returned his adoring smile and replied, "Yeah, me too."

Nick allowed Natalie to mother him up to a point. He consumed two bowls of chicken soup and swallowed his medication as he was told. He took a quick shower, but declined Nat's offer to inspect his injuries and refused the nap she thought he could use. He was more concerned with solving the puzzle, instinctively knowing that LaCroix had probably intensified his search for them. Nick had no idea how long it would take him to solve the puzzle, but he didn't want to waste whatever time he had left.

Three hours passed before he stopped for a bathroom break; something which he almost didn't make in time simply because he was unfamiliar with the sensation. Returning from his trip to the bathroom, Nick discovered that Sidney had taken over his spot on the couch. Nick sat down next to the cat and eyed it thoughtfully. The few times he had visited Nat's apartment, the cat had shown a definite disdain for the vampire, hissing at him whenever he ventured too close. While some animals had been completely unaffected by his presence in the past, there had been quite a few that became easily agitated or fearful of him. Since becoming mortal, Nick noticed that Sidney's attitude towards him had softened. The animal allowed himself to be petted for about thirty seconds before jumping off the couch and sauntering back into the bedroom to be with his mistress.

Nick picked up the puzzle again and started back to work on it. The sound of Natalie's voice as she cooed lovingly to her pet in the other room, penetrated his thoughts. She had offered to keep him company, but Nick thought she might become too big of a distraction, especially since their earlier activity was still fresh in his mind. Just the thought of her silky smooth skin against his had him squirming uncomfortably on the couch. He shook his head, silently reprimanded himself for allowing his mind to wander, then focused his concentration back on the puzzle.

It took another four and a half hours for Nick to nearly reach his goal. He was only one movement away from fully uncovering the dragon. Instead of proceeding, he stopped and set the puzzle aside. Once it opened up and implored him to make a wish, Nick wanted to be prepared. He already had proof that the thing could read minds, so he wanted to make sure his thoughts were precise. If he were to simply wish LaCroix out of his life, the puzzle might interpret that as him wishing his master dead. There was a time when Nick had wished for such an occurrence and he had even tried to kill the master vampire himself. They'd had a terrible fight in which Nick had gotten the upper hand and driven a burning stake through his heart.

Nick had thought that was the end of his master. He'd watched him become nothing but a pile of ashes. At least that's what he thought he saw. He had glanced away for just a second or two, his eyes filled with tears as he grieved over the body of Alyce, the woman who had sacrificed herself to save him. A second was all LaCroix would have needed to escape unnoticed through the skylight, leaving behind his burning coat. Or perhaps he had become a pile of ashes after all, and because of his immense age was able to regenerate. It's when the ashes are completely scattered by the wind that regeneration becomes impossible. Nick never had the chance to check the ashes because he had passed out from exhaustion and lack of blood. By the time he came to, Natalie and Schanke were hovering over him out on the sidewalk while firemen were working to extinguish the fire in the loft.

At the time, Nick had believed that his master was dead, and although there was a sense of relief that LaCroix would no longer be around to torment him, there was also a feeling of great loss. LaCroix had been his father of sorts, and Nick was reminded of how caring and generous the vampire had been to him at the start of their relationship. No one could ever accuse LaCroix of having a warm and fuzzy side, but he did have his moments. He was, on many occasions, able to display his devotion and affection for his offsprings. Over the years, however, his devotion had become a twisted obsession, at least where Nick was concerned.

Nick picked up the puzzle again and contemplated making that final adjustment. He knew he didn't want to wish LaCroix dead, but he wondered how to make it so that his master would simply mind his own business. 'But, Nicholas, you _are_ my business,' Nick could hear his master's voice clearly in his mind. He shook his head at the thought and sighed wearily. Making a wish shouldn't be so complicated, but it almost felt like signing a legal document. All the stipulations had to be thought out carefully in advance. If he had taken the legend more seriously to begin with, he would have wished not simply for mortality, but to be a physically fit and mentally healthy mortal who would age gracefully and live untroubled for another fifty to sixty years.

Since there were no guarantees for a long and fruitful life, he'd simply have to hope and pray he'd live long enough to see his dreams of a normal family life and fatherhood come true. He understood too well, the fears Schanke had concerning the magic puzzle. After what happened to Stanley Melville and the memories Nick still carried from centuries ago, it was wise to tread lightly and plan ahead.

Baghdad 1258

Shalimar had paused in her storytelling to sip from a cup of water. As she was about to continue, the distant gaze on her sole listener's face caught her eye.

"Does my tale disturb you?"

Nicholas jerked his head up at the question. "What?"

"I asked if my tale disturbed you."

"Why would you think it did?"

"Your eyes had a far off look to them just now. Is it my story? Do you wish me to stop?"

"No. The tale is fine. It just made me think of something. Of how you can want something so badly, but when you get it, things aren't quite how you imagined."

"You have had a similar experience? Is that how you became a demon?"

"Demon?" Offended by the word, Nicholas rose from his lounging position and moved to stand menacingly in front of his potential next victim. "Because I cheated death, you believe me a devil? I am immortal," he informed her as he traced his finger along the vein in her neck. "I will live to see entire civilizations emerge and blossom, then falter and perish. And through it all, I will never grow old and never know sickness. I will enjoy an eternity of perfect health and unlike you, I will never, ever die."

There was a glint of gold in his eyes and Nicholas could feel the vampire within ready to spring forth. He could also feel Shalimar's pulse racing frantically beneath his fingertips. She was terrified of him, yet she hid her fear well.

"You are very fortunate indeed if that is your heart's desire," said Shalimar. "As for Demarcus, even though he had received the freedom that he wished for, it was not as he had expected. He was left alone in the middle of the desert with no food or water, and he would surely perish if he could not find the magic box and make another wish."

Nicholas was no fool. He could see clearly what the young vixen was up to. She was trying to distract him from killing her by enticing him with more of her mythical tale. He admitted to himself that he was interested in learning the outcome. Besides, he had given her his word that he would let her live as long as he found her entertaining. If he disliked the ending of the story, he could always kill her later. He backed away from her a few inches, still keeping his hand lightly resting on her throat.

"Are you saying that he found the magic box again and wished himself out of the desert?"

"It's not quite as simple as that. Do you wish to make yourself comfortable before I continue?" Shalimar gestured towards the bed, hoping to generate some distance between herself and the demon. Nicholas finally conceded and drifted back over to the bed where he ensconced himself among the satiny pillows and directed her to continue. Breathing a relieved sigh, Shalimar unconsciously covered her exposed throat with one hand as she picked up the lost thread of her story.

"Demarcus decided to search the sand around where he had been lying, and yes, he did find the magic puzzle again. But when he tried to solve it, he found that it was not as simple as it had been the first time. You see, that is one of the secrets of the magic box. It gives itself freely the first time one seeks to solve it. However, the second time does not come as easily. One has to work harder and longer to uncover the dragon. Demarcus did not know this and he became frustrated that it did not work as quickly as it had before. He thought perhaps it would not work at all, so he simply started walking, following the trail of the caravan headed towards the city. As he walked, to occupy his mind with thoughts other than of his own possible doom, he began to work the puzzle. And he thought about what he would ask for if the magic box would take pity on him and grant him another wish. There was much for him to consider; how to save himself and of course, how to rescue his people from slavery."


"Nick? Sorry, didn't mean to startle you," said Nat when she saw him jump slightly at the sound of her voice. She stood behind him and gently raked her fingers through his hair. "You've been at that thing for hours. Why don't you take a break?"

"I'm done," Nick casually informed her. "Just needs one more twist."

"Really? So... what are you waiting for?"

"Trying to make sure I get my wish right before I actually make it. I figure I have to be very careful and quite specific as to what I want to happen."

Natalie dropped her hand from Nick's hair to his shoulder, then gracefully perched herself on the arm of the couch. "What's to really think about? You just wish for LaCroix to go away and leave us the hell alone."

"And what if he left us alone, trapped inside an underground mausoleum?"

"Well, I suppose that wouldn't be any fun."

"No, it wasn't," Nick mumbled. When Natalie gazed at him curiously, Nick decided to explain. "I took something that belonged to him. A young woman he had spent three nights plying with wine and honey as a special treat for himself. My intentions were to free her, but instead, I lost control and had to have her for myself. LaCroix was not at all happy with my rash behavior, although he pretended to get over it fairly quickly. Several weeks later while in Rome, he lured me into the abandoned catacombs just outside the city to show me something. He led me to where a beautiful young woman was lying asleep in one of the chambers. Basically, he was setting me up, making me think that he was preparing the girl for himself. He said something about the darkness and the dry, cold temperatures of the catacombs would give her blood a distinctive, old-world flavor. He said that she'd be ready in a few more hours and he planned to come back for her then.

"But he knew me too well. He knew that I would sneak back and try to rescue the girl or have her for myself. Once again, my impulsiveness got the better of me and while I was inside the chamber making a glutton of myself, LaCroix was outside, sealing the tomb."

"How long were you kept there?"

"Three nights. The walls, ceiling and floor were all solid stone. The door was cast iron and there was no breaking it down. I just had to wait until LaCroix came back for me. By the third night, I was beginning to think he planned to leave me there to starve. When he finally returned to let me out, I was so relieved and grateful that I forgot to be angry with him.

Natalie shook her head in disbelief. "So that bastard seals you up in a tomb for three nights and you don't wish he would just crawl under a rock and die?"

Nick gave a minor shrug. "I did wrong. I was being punished."

"You weren't being punished, Nick; you were being abused. LaCroix may be a father figure to you, but he's a sadistic and abusive father figure. And he needs to be stopped once and for all. I think you need to wish him out of existence."

Nick turned his head away from her to hide not only the shock but the hurt those words inflicted. He knew deep down that she was right, but it was hard to face the truth.

Natalie picked up on the distress her comment caused. She patted his hair and sighed. "Sorry. I guess making wishes isn't all that it's cracked up to be."

"No, it isn't," Nick concurred. He let out a small groan as he reached his hand up and rubbed the back of his stiff neck.

"You're tense," Natalie noted. "You need to try to relax." She brushed his hand away, then gently probed the area he had been rubbing. "Yeah, your muscles are really tight." She stood up in front of him, then began to untuck his T-shirt from his jeans. "Come on. Off with this."

"Nat." Nick grabbed her hand to stop her from undressing him. He flashed her an embarrassed grin and timidly announced, "I don't think I'm up for that again."

"Oh, please. What do you take me for, some kind of a sex maniac? I only wanted to massage your neck and shoulders for you."

"Oh." Nick gave in easily at that point, stiffly raising his arms so Natalie could strip him of his T-shirt. Then, per her instructions, he stretched out face down on the couch, his arms at his side, his head turned towards the sofa back. Natalie placed a small pillow beneath his head, then proceeded to carefully kneed the aching muscles at the base of his neck and out towards his shoulders.

"Ahhhh," Nick sighed with contentment, "that feels good. I think I could get used to this too."

"I still can't get over how warm your skin is to the touch now," said Nat. "I remember when we first met, you were ice cold."

"I was DOA, Nat."

"And the best looking corpse I'd ever seen. I can remember actually wishing that I had the chance to meet you while you were alive. It's really wild how things worked out. Maybe it's fate, you know. Maybe we were destined to be together."

"That would mean that you're the true reason for me becoming a vampire," said Nick. "It was the only way I could live long enough to meet you."

"Whoa! That's deep."

"And now that we've found each other, fate has given us a way to stay together."

"And live happily ever after?"

A sudden knock at the door caused them both to start. A young man's voice announcing, "Room service," reminded Nat that she had indeed placed an order. She gave Nick a comforting pat on the shoulder to indicate that he should just stay put and relax.

"Time for a little after midnight snack," she told him as she went to answer the door. "I love that this place has 24-hour room service."

Nick raised his head long enough to verify that the visitor was only someone from room service there to fulfill a request. He laid his head back down and closed his eyes. He realized just how fatigued he was and knew that as soon as he finished eating, he'd be heading off to dreamland. He listened as Natalie thanked the bellhop and received a cheerful response to have a good evening. "Oh, beg your pardon, sir," the young man was heard to say as he stepped out into the hallway. Nick thought nothing of there being another guest passing by outside their room. He heard the door close and lock, then lazily waited for Natalie to wheel the food cart over to the couch. However, the next sound to reach his ears, was a low-pitched, animal-like growl.

Nick recognized it instantly and snapped fully alert. He jerked his head up and became frozen with shock at the terrifying sight of LaCroix holding a trembling Natalie in a viselike death grip. He held her suspended a few inches off the floor, his left arm wrapped about her torso, pinning her arms to her sides, while his right hand gripped her chin, exposing her neck for biting. His eyes were red with fury and his fangs were extended, ready to strike.

"No!" Nick yelled, rising quickly from the couch and starting towards them. He then stopped dead in his tracks when he realized there was basically no way of fighting his old master or protecting Natalie. His eyes searched quickly for the puzzle, but was unable to detect its location. Perhaps it had slipped between the cushions of the sofa or fallen onto the floor. There was absolutely no time to look for it, so Nick tried the only thing left. "Please, LaCroix!" he pleaded urgently. "Please, don't hurt her!"

"Oh, I'm not going to hurt her, Nicholas," the vampire growled menacingly. He tauntingly kissed Natalie's cheek, then coldly announced, "I'm going to kill her."


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