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"Goddess," Ariana choked. "Don't you mean demon? Look what her blood has done to Ash," she said, "to all of them."

"That was never Lilith's intent," Nancy argued. "You bungled that yourself."

"And now?" Ariana asked, sinking back into the pillows and fearing she already knew the answer.

Nancy handed her a cup of tea, which Ariana drank greedily. Anything to give her strength.

"Now," Nancy answered when she was again holding the tiny porcelain cup, "you and the master have fulfilled the promise."



Again Ariana shook her head. "Nancy, I hate to break it to you, but the master and I haven't fulfilled anything. I can't have children. It's impossible."

Nancy smiled gently at her and smoothed her hair the way she might a sick child. "After all you've seen, dear, do you still believe anything is impossible? Lilith has come to claim her bargain."

Luc cleared his throat. "I don't mean to interrupt," he said from the doorway, "but she's at least half right." He nodded toward Nancy, then came in and took a seat in a brocade-covered chair near the door. "I didn't know how to tell you before, Ariana, but you're what we call a breeder."

He waited, trying to gauge Ariana's reaction.

When it came, all she said was "That's flattering," her tone clearly indicating it wasn't.

Luc stiffened. "Hey, my mother was a breeder," he said.

Nancy turned to study Luc.

"What are you talking about?" Ariana asked, pulling herself up on the bed.

"You're a breeder," Luc repeated, "which makes you irresistible to vampires. Something in you causes them to feel s.e.xual desire and, in some cases, allows them to sire natural offspring."

"You mean I give off some kind of vampire pheromone?" Ariana asked, disbelief sending her eyebrows up a notch.

"What's a pheromone?" Luc asked.

Ariana rolled her eyes. "A smell," she replied tartly, "a scent of some kind."

"Well, yeah," he said. "That's pretty much it exactly."

"And how do you know this?" Nancy asked.

"It's like I said," Luc repeated, turning to the older woman. "My mother was one. All I know is what she told me-and Ash-and the little bit of rumor I've picked up here and there, but so far, it's been dead on." Luc rose and came over to the bed. "When Ariana and I first met, we couldn't keep our hands off each other." He sat down on the other side of the mattress from Nancy. "For heaven's sake, Ariana," he said, "we made love in a parking deck."

"You what!" Nancy screeched.

Luc ignored her and continued on, watching Ariana's eyes to be sure she understood. "Vampires don't have s.e.x," he explained, "We don't need it. It's not how we reproduce. Bloodlust is the only lust we feel."

Finally, the first spark of understanding began to dawn in the dark depths of her gaze. "No," she said again, shaking her head from side to side. "It can't be."

Luc leaned forward and kissed her softly on the forehead, then backed away. "I couldn't have done that the day I met you-at least not without ripping your clothes off, and you know it. Didn't you wonder why the attraction between us only lasted a day?"

She was silent for so long, Luc felt compelled to say something else. Anything else. He rested his head in his hands. "I'm sorry about this," he offered, not looking up at her. "I'm sorry about everything."

"So, you think I'm carrying your child?" Ariana asked.

"Children," Luc corrected, a frown marring his ethereal features. "Didn't she tell you? Nancy thinks its twins."

"Twins?"

Luc was startled to realize it was fear he saw on Ariana's face. "Ariana," he asked, "what's the matter?"

She wiped the beginning of a tear from one eye with the back of her hand. "Nothing," she said, "I just hadn't really planned on giving birth to one demon sp.a.w.n today, that's all, much less two."

"Hey," he said, smarting. "That's a little harsh."

"No," Ariana said, "you don't understand. Long ago, as Delilah, I made a bargain with a demon, and the price for her help was that I was to bear a child-Samson's child. That child was to be a vessel for Lilith to re-enter the world."

Luc leaned forward, still unable to fully grasp what she was telling him.

"Lilith's blood is what turned Ash into a vampire." She looked into Luc's unusual eyes. "I even think it's why certain women can mate with them. Those women-and you-are descendents of the child I was already carrying when I drank her blood. There just haven't been any offspring strong enough for Lilith to enter."

Until now. The words hung unspoken in the air between them.

"Without the infusion of Lilith's blood at the moment of conception, as the ritual required, all the resulting human children were too weak," Nancy explained. "And the vampire traits of the born vampires don't manifest until p.u.b.erty, which is too late. These children, though," she looked at Ariana's belly, "are something different."

"Whoa, hold on now," Luc demanded. "We don't know that. We don't even know if it will be twins. We just have Nancy's say on that. And they will be my children, mine and yours," he said, taking Ariana's hand, "not Samson's or Delilah's." He turned to Nancy. "Wasn't that also required?"

An enigmatic smile played at Nancy's thin lips. "Perhaps," she said. She smoothed her perfectly pressed gray dress. "But fate has seen her to the same result, and Lilith has deemed the child of the breeder and the born vampire a worthy vessel."

Ariana sank back down into her pillow, then sat back up. "Where is Ash?" she asked suddenly, looking back and forth between her two bedside chaperones.

Luc took her hand. "Ash fought Memnon last night." She looked blankly at him, forcing him to spell it out. "It was a death match," he said, "and he... lost, Ariana."

"The Master lost a fight?" Nancy asked.

Luc nodded. "Not a fair fight, but, well, it's a no-rules kind of game."

"Does that mean..." Ariana's voice trailed off.

Luc nodded, knowing she needed to hear it outright. "Yes, Ariana, he's dead. I'm sorry, but I saw him disintegrate with my own eyes."

A small gasping squeak came out of her and then nothing else.

"Ariana," Luc laid his other hand on top of hers, "please don't worry. I'm going to take care of you and the twins."

Ariana looked at him coldly. "Really? And just how do you plan to do that? Up your output of vampire beauty lotion? And watch for signs that our children may be demons?"

Luc's jaw dropped, and Ariana was instantly contrite. "I'm sorry," she said, turning her hand to clasp his. "I don't know what I'm going to do yet, but everything will be fine somehow."

"I'm not rich," Luc acknowledged, "but those children will need both of us, and you shouldn't underestimate the value of having someone around who's only interest is in protecting you. And the twins."

Ariana smiled at him. "I guess you're right," she said. "I know my world, and I've gotten very used to getting my own way in it, but," her gaze drifted from his face to the windowless room behind him, "like it or not, I'm part of this world now, and so are our children. And we'll need your help."

"You'll have it," Luc confirmed. He smiled at her "Besides," he said, "there are two of them. They can't both be Lilith." He nodded toward Nancy. "And maybe Nancy's just plain gone senile," he added. "How long can a demon hang around waiting to be born anyway?"

Nancy gave an unattractive harrumph, but Ariana smiled a genuine smile this time. "Ever the optimist," she said.

Luc broke out his trademark grin. "That's more like it," he said. "After all, they're just kids. It's not like it's the end of the world."

end.





CHAPTER DISCUSSION