kismet's world of darkness title

Christina: Searching for Jason

by: Cathy McQuillin A Legacy Article from Sanguinus Curae

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My name is Christina Strong, and this is my story. I won't bore you with the details of where I was born, or how I grew up; I don't recall any of it anyway. I don't remember the first boy I kissed, or my mother's face. I have forgotten bedtime stories, walks with my father and going to college. This is the story of the things I do remember, of my adopted sire and close friends. Of love both lost and found. Of the man I dearly care for and how I almost lost him completely to final death. Of course, death is usually final for most people, but as a certain cocky Brujah bastard once told me, we aren't exactly 'people' now, are we?

I sit on the roof of my apartment building with Luke Thomas at my side. I look down at the real people walking the streets of Las Vegas. The lights are bright here as I record my tale, but they weren't always so bright. Maybe I will tell you about the day I was born, or at least the beginning of my life as I know it. It was here in Vegas, actually, on a dark September evening, just after sundown. People lined the streets just as they do tonight, and they had no idea what had awakened among them....

Prelude

I awoke in a darkened alley to a horrible thirst, a terrifying hunger. It was neither. It was both. It was completely devastating. I didn't know where I was or how I came to be there. I recognized nothing around me, not even the clothing I wore. Suddenly I panicked - I didn't even know who I was! I didn't know my name, family, friends or where I was from; I didn't remember anything about myself at all.

I looked around to see that I was lying in the darkness behind a dumpster. I stood slowly, brushing the dirt from my clothes. I was wearing black jeans, white tennis shoes and a plain blue tee shirt. When I shoved my hands in my pocket to look for some kind of identification, all I pulled out twenty-eight dollars and some loose change.

Then I noticed a bracelet on my wrist. It was delicately made of silver and shimmered in what little light filtered into the depths of the alley from the street. I spun the chain on my wrist and realized it was an identification bracelet. I held the tag up to the light and knew my name: Christina.

Somehow I knew the words for things I saw and the meanings behind them, but I had no idea how I had learned them. I searched my memory and realized that I knew concepts and ideas, but nothing related to myself, nothing personal. Not even the slightest glimmer of a memory surfaced.

My head began to ache with the strain of trying to remember. I felt a hunger tearing at my insides and since I had no idea when I'd last eaten, I thought I'd better find some food.

I walked out of the alley and onto a brightly lit street. There were neon lights flashing everywhere, and the street was nearly as bright as day. Casinos, hotels, and people lined the strip. I could be only one place: Las Vegas.

I had no idea how I had gotten there, and no recollection of ever having been there before that night. To all extents and purposes, my life began the moment I woke alone in the alley.

Across the street a long white limousine pulled up. I watched the driver walk around and open the door for his passengers. A tall dark man stepped out who in turn helped a beautifully dressed woman exit the car, but it was the man who caught my eye.

He was impeccably dressed and seemed to carry himself with the dignity of another age. His straight long dark hair glistened in the neon lights, almost as if it had a life of its own. He moved with grace and precision as he stepped onto the curb. He appeared to be young, around thirty or so, but when I saw his eyes I knew he must be much older. He stopped for a moment and looked me up and down. Then he nodded politely to me and turned to escort the woman into the hotel.

I watched the crowd ebb and flow for a few minutes, but my hunger burned deep inside of me. I had to find something to eat.

I turned and began walking down the street, looking at people who passed and wondering if I knew them. I was frustrated and starting to get more than a little frightened.

After a while, I found a fast food stand on the sidewalk and got into line. I ordered something to eat and took it to a nearby table where I sat down and took a small drink of the soda. My stomach rolled, but the hunger still seemed to consume me. I tore the wrapper from the burger and took a bite, trying to ignore the nausea that washed over me from the smell of the food. Suddenly I bolted for the trash barrel next to the table and vomited what I'd just eaten. Blood seemed to be mixed with the bile and I vomited again, more blood. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and backed away from the barrel. I was obviously sick; was I dying?

People were staring at me and I turned to run through a nearby alley, exiting onto a quieter street. I could smell the blood in the people passing me and it made me feel ravenous again. When I thought about buying more food, my stomach lurched. No, I thought firmly, no more food.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the dark haired man from the limousine standing across the street watching me. I kept walking trying to pretend I didn't see him and in moment I had passed him by. I felt his eyes on me the entire time.

A few blocks later I saw him in front of me again, leaning against a light pole. I couldn't figure out how he had gotten ahead of me or why he was following me. Again I passed him, and again he appeared a block or so ahead of me and across the street. I walked past quickly.

Who are you? I heard a strange voice ask.

I stopped and looked around but no one was close to me. The voice had seemed to come from inside my head.

Have you no respect for the Prince? I looked behind me and saw the mysterious gentleman standing near the street and watching me intently. Why have you not shown yourself to her?

Frightened, I turned and ran down first one alley, then another, darting around obstacles and searching for a place to hide. I reached a darkened spot and backed into a doorway out of sight. Leaning back against the doorframe, I slid to the ground, covering my face and giving in to my tears as quietly as I could.

After a time, I lifted my head and brushed away the tears. I started to wipe my hands on my jeans and realized they were covered in blood. I touched my cheeks and looked at my hands again. I was crying blood! Vaguely I though I had to get to a hospital, that I must be dying. I peeked out, looking for the man who had been following me but he was nowhere to be seen. I leaned back against the building and looked up at the slice of sky I could see between the buildings. What was happening to me?

A few minutes later I heard a voice say "Miss, are you alright?" It was one of the Vegas street people, a woman, standing a few feet away from me. "Is there something I can do for you? You look like you're hurt."

I looked at my bloodstained hands and laughed nervously. "I think I'm dying."

As she moved closer, the hunger bloomed inside of me and I started to cry again. The woman walked over to me, crouched down and placed a hand on my shoulder. The warmth of her hand burned through my tee shirt.

I looked up at her and suddenly the craving within coupled with the scent of the woman's blood was overwhelming. I put my arms around her and buried my face in her neck. As her arms went around me, I could feel my canines grow and I sank them, long and knifelike, into the woman's flesh. She didn't even try to fight me.

I was horrified! I was exhilarated! I drew blood deeply from her veins, feeding the hunger that had tormented me from the moment I had woken. The woman wavered in my arms and still I could not stop drinking. I felt the heart inside her chest slow, hear her breathing ease.

I couldn't stop, I drank until the woman was dead in my arms and I could drink no more. Then I licked at the wound to get the last possible drop and watched in amazement while the wound closed as if it had never been. Suddenly realizing what I had done, I dropped the woman to the ground and stood unsteadily. I put a hand to my mouth and felt the fangs, sharp and bloody. "I'm a vampire," I whispered, looking down at her body.

I turned and ran, faster than I would have ever thought I could run. I went down street after street randomly with no destination in mind, only knowing that I must get away from the body in the alley, the woman I had killed to satisfy the hunger within. Near dawn I found myself in a rundown part of the city. I climbed into the basement of an abandoned house and crawled into a closet. I made sure the door was closed tightly behind me to keep out the sun and I slept the sleep of the dead.


The next night when I rose, the hunger rose with me. It was not nearly as overwhelming as it had been the previous night, but it was there just the same. I felt sure that I would not have to feed that night or possibly even the next, but I knew that before too many nights passed the blood would call to me so strongly that I would not be able to resist.

I climbed out of the basement and made my way back toward the lights of the main strip. In an alley I washed the worst of the blood from my jeans with later dripping from a drainpipe. Then for hours I walked and watched the people and I wondered what life had been like for me as a mortal.

Then I saw him again, the gentleman who had followed me and spoke into my mind. I backed into a shadowed doorway hoping to hide from his dark gaze. Why do you hide from me? I heard his voice speak in my mind. Perhaps you fear punishment for breaking the Masquerade?

"Masquerade?" I whispered. "What?" I shrank further into the doorway and closed my eyes.

Suddenly I bolted, darting through traffic to enter a side road, but he was there before me. I ran back in the other direction, crossing the busy traffic again, and he gave chase.

I ran for what seemed like miles, down one street after another, but he was everywhere I turned. He seemed to be playing with me, staying just far enough behind to give me hope that I had lost him, then suddenly appearing in front of me. I started going down alleys, trying to loose him in their concealing darkness.

After darting down a particularly dark alley, I moved around a corner and froze. I listened carefully to see if he was still following, but I didn't hear him. I saw a fire escape above me.

I glanced quickly down the alley, then climbed the ladder to the roof and ran along its edge. A gap loomed in front of my feet and I nearly fell as I jumped to the next building. I ran along the rooftops from one building to the next. A few times I stopped to listen for pursuit, but I seemed to have lost him.

Exhausted, I sat down on the edge of a rooftop and looked out over the city. I could see the main strip from where I sat and I watched the lights for a while, wondering who the strange man was. After a time I got up to leave but when I turned I ran into what felt like a stone wall. Immediately arms like steel bands went around me and held me captive.

"Would you like to meet the Prince now or after I have beaten you for your insolence?" a deep voice with a distinct Spanish accent said.

"What are you talking about?" I cried, struggling to free myself. "This is America, there are no princes here! Let me go!"

I tried to jerk out of his grasp but he was far too strong. I raised my head and looked him in the eye. The instant I did so I knew it was a mistake, but it was too late; I couldn't look away.

"Relax," he said, his voice a soft purr in the night. Almost against my will I felt my struggles cease. I tried again to look away but his dark gaze held me. After a moment he asked, "What is your name?"

"Christina," I replied, feeling as if I were in a daze.

"Christina," he repeated softly. "What clan are you?"

"What clan?" I shook my head, confused. "I'm not Scottish. I think you have mistaken me for someone else. Please let me go."

He smiled at me, his straight white teeth gleaming in the light that shone up from the street. "I can see you are not, childe," he said. "Tell me where you are from. Tell me about yourself."

"I don't know," I whispered, suddenly afraid of displeasing this man who seemed so much more than a man. "I don't remember anything."

"Then how do you know your name?" he asked.

"The bracelet," I said, trying to raise my arm to show him. He allowed the movement, releasing me and taking a step back. He took my wrist and looked carefully at the bracelet.

"Where did you get this?"

"I don't know, I was wearing it when I woke up last night." I knew I should try to run from him but somehow he kept me there, mesmerized.

He looked into my eyes for several long minutes, as if searching for the truth. "Tell me," he said softly, and I felt absolutely compelled to do so. I told him of waking in the alley and the hunger that had consumed me. I told him about watching the street and seeing him, about the food and the blood and the tears. I even told him of the woman in the alley and the fear of what I thought I might be.

"Childe, do you not know what you are?" the man asked gently.

"I don't know anything," I cried. "I don't know who I am or where I am. You ask me what I am? I'm a vampire!" I began to cry those awful, bloody tears.

"Well, Christina," he said soothingly, "My name is Antonio Miguel Santiago Moreno. We have much in common, you and I." He pulled out a lace edged handkerchief and began to wipe the blood from my face and hands.

"What?" I asked.

"We are both Vampires," he replied. When I gasped, he continued. "Yes, this is true. You require blood to survive, as do I. We are Kindred. Furthermore, we are of the same clan, the Tremere clan. It is the best kind of vampire to be." He took my arm and began to lead me toward a fire escape and down to the ground.

"The most important thing in the world for you and me is to be loyal to the House and Clan Tremere," he told me. "When you were embraced, you made a vow to that effect, even if you do not remember."

"Embraced?" I said as we climbed down the fire escape.

"When you became a vampire. I will teach you the terminology, and the traditions." He smiled at me then led me toward the mouth of the alley. "After loyalty to the Tremere comes the Masquerade. No mortal must be able to prove we exist, therefore no unnecessary killing."

"It was an accident," I whispered. Once I'd started drinking from the woman, I really didn't know how to stop myself from taking it all. The hunger had taken over.

"I know," he told me kindly.

When we reached the end of the alley, Antonio motioned to his limousine, which was parked in the street nearby. "You are alone. I am lonely," he sighed as he helped me inside. After settling down across from me, he said, "With your permission, I would like to... adopt you. Begin your training. You have much to learn about being Kindred and even more to learn about being Tremere."

"What is Kindred?" I asked, looking around the lush interior of the limousine.

"Kindred is what we vampires call ourselves," he said.

I thought of what I believed I knew about vampires and already so much of it seemed false. I would need someone to instruct me, to guide me into the world of the night so I would never kill another human in ignorance.

"You are most kind, Antonio," I told him. "I am honored to accept you as my Sire."

Antonio looked at me sharply. "Childe, I know that you did not lie to me when you said you remember nothing before waking last eve. How did you know the term 'sire?'"

"I don't know," I said thoughtfully. "Maybe the same way I knew this was Vegas and that we are in a limousine. It seems I can remember many facts, but have no memories of how I learned them."

We were both silent for a while as the car moved through traffic. I wondered again who I had been and how I had come to this.

As we pulled to a stop in an underground parking garage beneath a large office building, another thought occurred to me. "Is there a way to find out who made me what I am? To find out who embraced me?" I asked him, carefully avoiding the term sire, as Antonio would be that for me now.

He thought for a moment, then looked away as he got out of the car. "I don't believe so," he told me as he offered a hand to help me out. "I will check into it, but I think you will have to content yourself with the memories you build from this day on. It is not uncommon for a childe to forget everything prior to her embrace. Granted," he added, "it does not often happen to one of our clan, but it does happen."

Antonio held out his arm to lead me to the door. "Welcome to my home, Christina. I believe we will have much to teach each other."

I took his arm and my life began.


Jason

I entered my apartment flushed and warm from a recent feeding. I hung up my coat and locked the door, then turned to check my answering machine. The first message was from Antonio, letting me know that he and Michael Moorecock, his other adopted childe, were going to Los Angeles on business. The second was from my father, asking when I would be coming back up for a visit. I sighed, knowing that I should probably visit him soon but not quite able to look forward to it. I had felt awkward around Papa since the night I had met him in San Francisco. Papa had discovered I was still alive and I, of course, couldn't remember him.

The last message made me smile.

"Christina, why did I give you a cell phone if you won't carry it?" Jason's voice chided me. "Look, I'd like you to come to San Francisco tomorrow night," he continued. "Give me a call, my cell phone is on."

Jason Kline was truly a product of the electronic age. He thought everyone should be reachable all of the time. I preferred privacy, especially when feeding, but I was glad that he had called.

He was something of an enigma to me, to everyone really. Jason was mortal but seemed Kindred, and lived by the belief that the less your enemies knew about you, the less power they had over you. And Jason's 'employer,' Graves, had many enemies.

Being with Jason was like rediscovering my teen years. He was dependable, strong, romantic, and very attractive. His many disguises and aliases only made him more interesting and mysterious. Jason had also saved my life repeatedly and without hesitation.

I couldn't tell Jason how I felt about him; I lacked the basic relationship skills to do so. That didn't seem to matter because I could tell he knew how I felt. He didn't try to take advantage of my feelings, and for that I cared about him even more. I knew without asking that he felt the same way about me.

My only regret about being a vampire was that I could never have a normal life with Jason, that I could never be a normal girlfriend or wife for him. We would never live in a house in the suburbs, we would never belong to a car pool, we would never watch our children run laughing in the sunlight. I thought back to the first time that I had seen Jason, or 'August,' as he had called himself then.

I was torn from sleep by the sound of the door to my room bursting open. I sat up, holding the blanket to my chest to cover the thin nightgown I had donned before climbing into bed just before sunrise.

A tall man with shoulder length brown hair stepped into the circle of light cast from the lamp I'd left on. After a quick glance at his face I was sure he was Kindred.

Sounding like a hero from a popular movie, he said urgently, "Come with me if you want to live!" His voice captivated me, but still I nearly laughed at him until I saw the smoke rolling in through the open doorway.

The man turned and slammed the door shut, then pulled out a pistol in each hand. Using phosphorous rounds, which explode on impact, he literally blew a hole in the outside wall of the hotel. Holstering one of the guns, he turned and held a hand out to me.

Hesitating only a moment, I jumped up, grabbed my bag, and took his outstretched hand. Quickly he pulled me through the hole he had made and across the lawn to a car parked nearby.

I glanced back to see that nearly the entire building was in flames. If he had arrived a few minutes later, I would have been been destroyed. The man opened the driver's door and pushed me inside, then got behind the wheel and sped off into the night.

"Thank you," I said quietly, brushing my long dark hair out of my eyes and pulling down the hem of my nightgown. I reached into my bag for jeans and a sweater. When he didn't reply, I looked at him and asked, "Who are you?"

"A friend," he said. "I have been sent to keep you safe." He glanced over at me as I pulled on a pair of jeans, then looked back at the road. "My name is 'August Christopher.'"

His voice had a pleasing Southern accent, and I found myself inexplicably drawn to this handsome stranger. It was more his mannerisms that attracted me than his good looks, but I found it hard to trust him. It seemed too easy to believe he just happened to be in the right place at the right time to save me. I didn't find out until much later that his real name was Jason Kline and he was really a ghoul.

"We must leave San Francisco tonight," he told me urgently. "I have made arrangements for us to fly to New York in a private jet."

"Wait," I protested, pulling the sweater down over my nightgown. "What's the rush? I am supposed to be helping the prince with an important investigation."

"Do you think it coincidence that the hotel you were sleeping in was on fire?" he replied, his voice grim. "You need to leave town or you will die."

"Why do you care?" I shot back, angered at his high-handedness.

"I have been instructed to keep you alive," he said, and would say no more.

I brought my mind back to the present and picked up the phone to dial Jason's number. I walked over to the overstuffed couch in my living room and sat down. He answered on the second ring.

"Christina?" he said with a mild Spanish accent. "How are you doing?"

"Fine, 'Martín,'" I replied. 'Martín DePorres' was his current alias. "I just got home. How are you?"

"Terrible," he said. "You must fly to San Francisco first thing tomorrow evening to make it all better."

I laughed. "I hardly think my presence alone can cure what ails you."

"You'd be surprised," he told me seriously. "Really, I'd like you to fly in tomorrow. You'll never make it tonight." It was only about an hour before dawn.

"What's up?" I asked. "Is there a hurry?"

"I have us booked on a flight to the Caymans the day after tomorrow. I've made all of the arrangements so you'll be completely safe." He paused a moment, then added, "I know you need some time away. Tell me how you are really doing."

I looked up at a large painting above the television. It portrayed a young woman looking out over an oceanfront cliff at a brilliantly colored sunrise. A part of my mind wondered if I had ever seen a sunrise like that.

"Better," I said honestly.

"No more nightmares about Salem?" he pressed.

Less than a week before, Jason had rescued me from a dungeon Salem, Massachusetts. The prince had kept me locked in a room with a weak inner cell that held a human for me to feed upon. To her disappointment I had refused, knowing that the man was the father of a good friend of mine. Beth had died at the hands of Michael and Antonio.

"They are fading," I said slowly. I didn't mention that the other nightmares were still with me, the ones I'd been having for the past five years but never seemed to remember upon waking, shaking and drenched in fear.

"'Martín?'"

"Yes?"

"Thanks for coming for me." I said softly.

"I could have done nothing else, remember?" he said, affection strong in his voice. "My life for yours."

"I remember everything about you." I told him with a smile. And I did.

"Can you come, Christina? I'd really like to see you again."

"I'd love to come, 'Martín,'" I told him. "What time is my flight?" He gave me the necessary information. "I'll be there," I said.

"I'll be waiting," he replied.

I got up and went over to replace the phone in its base, then opened the drawer in the table and pulled out a framed picture.

It had taken me several weeks to convince Jason to let me take a photograph of him without any disguises. We had gone up to the roof of my apartment building and he had stood near its edge, the lights of Las Vegas spread out behind him. He looked so different without his disguises. His blond hair fell low on his forehead and his hazel eyes shone bright and clear in the camera flash.

I took the picture with me upstairs to the sleeping loft. I placed it on the bedside stand and went into the bathroom. I undressed and got into the shower. I closed my eyes and let the hot water ease my mind. Salem was never far from my thoughts, but I was beginning to put the hunger and the cell I had been a prisoner in behind me.

As I dried myself off, I watched my reflection. My long dark hair fell in soft waves well past my shoulders. My body would remain that of a twenty-three year old forever, tall and lithe. I had an athletic build from being a track star in high school and then in college, or so Papa had told me. I couldn't remember.

I stood straight and turned first one way then the other. I wondered if Jason was attracted to me. I grinned. "Perhaps we'll find out in the Caymans," I promised myself.

I turned out the lights and lay down in the bed. I soon felt the sleep of the dead overtake me as the sun rose in the desert sky.


When I stepped off the plane the following evening, Jason was indeed waiting for me. His long dark hair hung past his shoulders and, once again, I was enthralled by his eyes. It never seemed to matter to me what color they were; his eyes always had the power to make me weak in the knees. Jason kissed my cheek and handed me a dozen blood red roses. I smiled and hugged him. "Thank you," I said.

"The limousine is waiting," he replied. He took my hand and led me out into the warm California night. The driver opened the car door for us and Jason released my hand as I got in.

"Would you like to change before we go to dinner?" he asked. "I have reservations at a very nice restaurant on the bay."

"Unless they don't mind jeans, I suppose I'd better," I said. "How nice is this restaurant?" I had packed for the islands, although I should have expected to need formal clothing while with Jason.

"Actually, I have made arrangements to stop and pick up a gown for you," he replied. "If you don't mind."

I smiled. "Of course not."

The limousine pulled up in front of an exclusive shop a few minutes later. Jason escorted me inside where we were met by a trio of expectant mortals whose only task seemed to be pleasing me.

Jason excused himself to change into a tuxedo while I found the perfect dress. It was long, black, tight and sequined with a plunging neckline and a skirt slit to mid-thigh. When I went back to the car, Jason looked awestruck.

We drove to the restaurant and were escorted to a corner table with large windows and an excellent view of the bay. After we had been served the main course, Jason asked about my father.

"He's doing well, I believe," I said, smiling. "He was worried about our disappearance. I'm afraid I had to tell him we went off together on a romantic getaway."

Jason grinned. "We did end up together. Are you still getting on well with him?"

"As well as can be expected given the circumstances." I replied. "I think it would help if I could remember more of my past."

After a moment, Jason leaned forward. "Christina, I haven't asked you this before as I didn't want to pry, but would you like me to look into his past? Or yours?" My face must have shown my surprise for he added, "Didn't you ever think about it?"

"It just didn't occur to me not to take him at his word," I whispered, looking down at my food. "However, there are some things he won't talk about."

"The green-eyed boy?" Jason asked. "I've seen the picture. Roger still won't talk about him?"

"No."

I had found a picture of a dark haired boy in his early teens standing beneath a maple tree. The boy had dark hair and flashing green eyes. I could just make out a faint scar on his neck below his right ear. The boy was trying to look stern, but I could see laughter in his face. I had seen the same boy in one of the few nightmares I remembered, but my father refused to admit he even existed.

"I just assumed he was a boyfriend that Papa didn't like from where I grew up."

"Helena."

"Yes."

It was difficult learning about my mortal self and knowing I may never remember anything more about it than I already did. I was silent for a moment as I looked out the window without seeing the view. "Do I really need to know?" I asked softly. "Is it even relevant anymore? After all, as much as I used to be Christina Strong, daughter of Roger Strong and student at Berkley, I don't remember any of it now. It doesn't seem real to me."

"It's your choice," Jason replied. "I won't look into it unless you want me to."

I met his eyes, my mind warring with my heart. "I guess you could do some checking," I said at last. "Just don't tell me what you find out until I ask you to."

"Of course."

"Unless there is something really important that I should know," I added, not knowing what that could possibly be. I became aware of the bracelet on my wrist and again wondered where I had gotten it.

"Not a problem," he said, then he sighed. "We do, however, have a different problem. We have to postpone our trip to the Caymans."

"Why?" I was dismayed, having looked forward to spending time alone with Jason.

"My... 'employer' has asked me to travel to London for him, then transport an item to Mid-Eastern Europe. It should only take a week or so," he told me, "and I thought it would give me a chance to show you the monastery."

His 'employer' was Graves, a low generation Gangrel, and he frequently sent Jason away on missions. I had never met Graves, but I found it hard not to resent his infrequent intrusions into our lives. I had to remind myself that because Jason was Graves' ghoul, he was obligated to do anything Graves asked him to, no matter what the consequences, but I really didn't understand the hold the man had over Jason.

"The monastery?" I asked, confused.

"Where I was raised," he said. "I would like you to see it."

I was pleasantly surprised, Jason had never asked me to accompany him on a mission before. "I take it you want me to go with you to Europe?"

"Yes," he replied firmly. "That is, if you would like to go with me. We could go to the Caymans, or the Bahamas, or wherever you would like as soon as the item is delivered."

I smiled. "I'd be delighted to accompany you, 'Martín.'"

"I have made all the arrangements," he told me and my smile grew into a grin. "We'll leave tonight and stay tomorrow in Salem. You will have a chance to see Brenda before we fly out tomorrow night."

Brenda Thompson, my sister in that she was also Antonio's childe, had visited me briefly before driving back to Salem. She was now studying with the Tremere Chantry there at the new prince's request. Brenda's father was the mortal that Beth had wanted me to feed from, and I had barely been able to resist.

"That would be great," I said.

After we had eaten, the band played a slow ballad and Jason asked me to dance. With a smile I took his hand and followed him to the dance floor. We had danced many times over the past few months and I knew we moved together well.

Jason held one of my hands near his chest and put an arm around my waist. He spread his fingers in the small of my back and I put an arm around his neck to play with his hair at his nape. I looked up into his dark eyes and he smiled down at me affectionately.

As we moved about the floor, Jason pulled me closer to him until our bodies touched and his chin rested lightly against my temple. He hummed along to the words of love the singer crooned and I allowed myself to believe he meant the words she sang.

"Love, I want to hold you forever/Forget the cares of yesterday/Tell you how much I love you/And let the world fade away."

Our bodies fit together perfectly as we moved around the floor. Slowly I inhaled the scent of Jason's skin beneath his subtle cologne. Very faintly I smelled the Kindred vitae within him and I smiled. Jason was a wonderful dancer and I loved being in his arms. I enjoyed every movement, every touch of his body on mine.

That dance seems frozen in my memory now, as sharp, clear and real to me as my own skin. I'd never felt in my whole existence the way I felt in Jason's arms. I wanted it to go on forever, needed it to, but of course it didn't, it couldn't. At the end of the song we walked hand in hand back to our table.

After we sat down, I asked, "Has anyone found Lucy?" Lucy was a little girl who had also been a captive in Salem. She'd gone missing after Jason had brought her back to San Francisco.

"Actually, yes," he replied, leaning forward. "You might find this interesting. She turned up in Flint while Brenda and the others were still looking for Beth's box. Get this: she's Kindred."

"What?" It is usually very easy to tell Kindred from mortals. I had spent quite a bit of time with Lucy before our capture, and if she were Kindred, I should have known. "When was she embraced?"

"Some time ago, it appears. She's Assamite."

Assamites are the assassins of the Kindred community. They could only be hired by princes, and always took their payment in blood. They were also experts at disguise. I had once nearly been killed by an Assamite who had been impersonating Jason.

"Who was she after?" I asked.

"Apparently she was supposed to keep Beth from getting the box." Jason shook his head. "Michael was very upset about the whole thing until he discovered she'd been hired by Stuart Williams, the prince of Flint. He has since forgiven her for the deception." He chuckled softly. "From what I hear, she talked him into going to an amusement park. Without a suit."

"That I would have to see," I replied dryly. I had never seen Michael out of a business suit, and he always looked impeccable.

"She's sending me pictures," Jason said. We both laughed.

Soon after, we left the restaurant and went directly to the airport. During the flight to Boston, Jason went over our aliases with me.

"I will be Philipe Roache," he told me, "a French insurance salesman going home from an extended business trip in the states."

We sat in the cockpit of the private jet he used when he was travelling. He had put the automatic pilot on only moments before, and now he turned to face me, a small jewelry box in his hands.

"You will be Christina Roache, my new wife." He opened the box and took out a beautiful engagement ring and wedding band. The diamond on the engagement ring was very large, nearly a full carat. The wedding band was intricately engraved with vines and leaves; the leaves twined together in such a way that the two rings appeared one.

I sat stunned, staring at it; I'd never expected to wear his ring, even in this type of situation.

"We met in San Francisco and I fell for you instantly," he continued as he slid the ring on my finger and raised my hand to his lips. His eyes told me that part of the story was indeed true. "We had a whirlwind courtship and were married in Las Vegas. Now we are on our honeymoon traveling through Europe before we return to Paris where we will live in bliss for the rest of our nights."

I laughed softly at his words and studied the ring. The diamond glittered brightly in the cabin lighting.

"Don't you have a ring to wear?" I asked him.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out another small box. "I thought you'd never ask, Christina."

I took the box from his hand and opened it. The man's band inside matched my rings perfectly. I took it out and reached for his hand.

"Are you proposing?" he asked half in jest.

I looked up at him in surprise. "Excuse me?"

"Well, I don't wear just any woman's ring," he said with a smile.

I knew he was joking with me, so I decided to play his game. I shrugged and put the ring back into the box and tried to hand it back to him. "If you're not interested...."

He refused to take the box from me. "Christina, you know I'd wear your ring with pleasure," he whispered seriously. His eyes caught me and for a moment I could think of nothing else. Then he held his hand out to me.

I glanced at it, then opened the box and removed the ring. I took his hand in mine, enjoying the warmth of his skin. I slowly slid the ring on his finger and looked up at him. His sweet smile would have knocked me off of my feet if I had been standing.

I reached up and cupped his cheek in my hand. "Aren't you going to kiss the bride?"

He grinned and bent closer to me. My arms went around his neck as he pulled me closer and kissed me gently.

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