But now ... well, maybe, he’d get an opportunity for a little payback. “I’m going home to clean up,” he said. “But you are joining Mike and me, right?”

“Oh, yes. Hell, yes. Bourbon Street in an hour,” Sean told him, turning around to leave.

Jack watched him, grinning.

He guessed they weren’t off for the night after all.

It was in Paris, not long after she first tasted blood, that she met Lucian.

And was told the rules.

She didn’t know what was happening that first night; she thought she was dreaming. Indeed, it was a dream, a nightmare of the most horrible proportions.

She had only recently come to Paris. Her father had sent her. Naturally, after her affair with Alec and its consequences, there was little to do but send a well-bred heiress to Europe.

And since she was a stranger in this beautiful old city, it was natural that she should sleep fitfully, restlessly.

And dream.

It seemed that the wind swept around her with a tremendous, dark force. The earth shook and quaked, the air was a tempest, the darkness was enwrapping. She felt that she lay still, teeth chattering against the strength of the force, and that she was lifted, lifted by the wind, by the very powers of the night, of darkness. She flew, compelled to soar through time and space.

Then, everything was still. The darkness remained around her, but slowly, a flickering red-and-ivory light brought the complete blackness slowly to shadow. She was down now upon something solid. She found herself on a rough fur rug before a hotly blazing fire. The flames kept the darkness at bay with an eerie red light.

She looked around, confused, disoriented.

She was not in her own bedroom, but rather in someone else’s private domain. Near the fire was a huge four-postered bed with elaborate carvings and a black satin spread. There was a desk, a washstand, a swivel mirror.

And just ahead of her, sharing the fire’s light and heat, sat a man in a large, wing-backed chair.

He watched her, hands folded casually in his lap. Even though he was seated, she could see that he was a tall man, broad-shouldered. Regal, confident, arrogant even, in the way he sat. His hair was dark, rich, long to his shoulders. In the strange red-gold light that continued to press back the shadows, she made out his features. Sharp, severe, handsome in a curious way.

And frightening, for she could see his eyes.

Perhaps they should have been brown; that dark, dark brown that was nearly black in a Creole way.

But they weren’t brown.

They were as red as the flames in the hearth.

She sat up, drawing her legs beneath her, trying very boldly to meet his stare. She tried to remind herself, convince herself that it was a dream. Dream. God, no! A nightmare, and she had fallen into the pits of despair to come upon the devil himself.

He stood, smiling. A wicked, pleased, smug smile, as if he had seen her eyes, as she had seen his; as if he had seen the fear within them, and was deeply delighted to realize that she was cowering there before him.

She tried to sit very tall and very straight upon her strange fur throne. Defiant. After all, if it was a nightmare, which surely it must be, it was right to defy the devil.

He wore a black shirt with stylishly frilled sleeves, open at the throat, skintight black breeches that hugged tightly muscled buttocks and thighs, and shiny black boots cuffed just above his knee.

He wore no beard or mustache, his face was bare, further accentuating the sharp, striking lines of his features, the sensual fullness of his lips as he curled his mouth in a mocking smile.

He walked toward her, then around her, his smile deepening, his eyes, now suddenly as dark as they should have been, assessing her as if she was a surprise gift; a new pet perhaps, or a prize racehorse.

“Oh, mademoiselle, you are quite something! A creation beyond measure. I had heard that this was so. Alec was infatuated beyond all sense and reason, but Alec is dead, and you are with us—

and you are to have a child! How rich, how droll! You are sent to Paris—your father is a clever man. A very clever man. You see— I know all about you. And you, my love, do you know who I am?” he asked her suddenly.

His voice was deep, masculine, yet husky as well, almost as if it were a part of the warm air still sweeping around her. It was a whisper that entered into her.

“The devil?” she queried in return.

His laughter was hearty; he seemed even more pleased.

“I am Lucian.”

“The devil.”

He shook his head, lashes lowering over his eyes, smile deepening with amusement. “Lucian DeVeau.”

“The devil—”

He paused before her suddenly, capturing her hands, drawing her to her feet. She tried to wrench free, but could not. Her bones would have snapped before his grasp would have loosened. She had never felt such strength.

He smiled, mocking her efforts. His eyes burned into hers. “Not the devil. The king. Your king.

The king of your kind.”

She shook her head vehemently. “No. You are a figure in a nightmare. My kind, what kind? This is preposterous, you are wrong, wrong, I am no kind—” He began to laugh again, and she felt the force of him around her. The power of the air and wind, and the power of the darkness and night. The power of the strange storm that had brought her.

They were his power; in the strength of his arms, in his eyes, in the laughter that was so rich, part of the tempest that had swept her up, and cast her down.

“Denial, naturally. Ah, it is the sweetest, my little love, when the good and innocent are so corrupted! But then, you‘re not entirely an innocent anymore, are you? There was that young fool with whom you fell in love! Poor Alec. He believed in the old legends, that his love could save his mortal soul! Alas, but your father murdered him!” he continued, still enjoying himself tremendously. “But again, all in the name of love, eh? And so you are here. One with us. My subject, as it were!” he taunted.

“This is a nightmare!” she declared. “You are a nightmare. I won’t stay here, I will wake up—”

“Oh, no, my sweet,” he said, and his smile remained, but it was subtle and tight. “Understand me. Life is now this nightmare, and you will live it. And you will listen to me, and learn. Because I am your king. And you need me. And oddly enough, in my own wicked way, I am a just king.”

“Let me go—” she demanded, starting to struggle.

“You have no strength. Strength comes with time, with practice. If the soul is what is stolen, the mind remains, and it is the power of the mind with which we work. Pay me heed. No one so lush as you has come along in a very long time, and I will enjoy teaching you, and you will learn to listen. You are mine, mademoiselle. And you will take care, cherie. Not many are so willing to teach, and I do not always offer my wisdom so generously, but then ... you are unique. So pay heed, and learn well. You will hear many things, most of them myth, rumor. Trust me, not what you hear from others. Now, there are simple things. The sun will not kill you, yet the day is not your time of strength. You may function by light, yet your most restful sleep will come with the dawn. Wine will still taste sweet, yet it will not be enough. You can be hurt, but you can also heal.

You can be hurt badly, and it may take years, decades more, to heal. You can be killed, but only if your head is severed from your neck, or your heart is pierced through.”

“This is hideous; I’ll not listen—”

“You will listen, and you will remember— I rule. And we survive because I rule wisely and well, do you understand? My word, to you, mademoiselle, is law.”

“I understand nothing; I will awaken—”

“Alas, you will not. Now, most importantly, you must always dine with the greatest care.”

“I beg your pardon—”

“Beg nothing. You understand my every word. With most of us, one kill at the full moon is enough. If you wish to live in peace and avoid mortal hunters, you should choose those who live outside society. Seek those who wander, the homeless, the criminals, the prostitutes. Steal human cargo from ships at sea. Don’t look so horrified. Oh, I suppose we do have a moralist or two among our number— and they choose to prey upon the prisons. Indeed, mademoiselle, you might be surprised to discover that even I have my code of ethics. If you’re distressed by your hungers, rid the world more easily of those condemned already. Murderers rot in prisons, take them. It matters not. Method matters. Comprehend this. Dispose of all remains. Dispose of all remains properly, this is most important! A glut of our kind and we would definitely be done in. You must behead your victims, or sever the arteries, and if you don’t, you will face trial and death by your peers. Yes! There is a law among us, for our survival! And our justice is swift. Take care with your actions. You may create just two more of our kind per century—”

“Create two more ... per century! This is insane. I’m leaving!”

“You are not leaving!” he informed her.

“Rot in hell!”

“You are not leaving!”

Suddenly she felt as if she were flying once again. Seized by tempest, lifted, tossed. She landed upon the black satin expanse of the bed, breathless, stunned. And he was above her. His clothing cast aside now, his flesh as sleek as the satin, as hot as the blaze from the impossible fire, his eyes locking on to hers.

She shrieked and screamed, fought, gouged with her nails. He laughed throughout, amused, tearing away her gown. Where he did not touch her, it still seemed that he could force her to his will. His eyes commanded, her flesh obeyed. When he tired of the fight, he willed her to cease, to lie back. Her mind raged, her body was still. The fire of his eyes touched her and she shook with her rage, but she lay vulnerable. Naked. Limbs parted to his pleasure and amusement.

She was so angry that she wanted to kill...

But then ...

The warmth began. Searing, permeating, invading her limbs. She heard his whisper, so coercive, soothing yet evocative. She felt his strange, sensual heat. The flickering liquid fire of tongue, his caress ... about her, within her.

She fought then with her heart, her soul, her mind. Still, she fought a losing battle. And later, she was horrified to realize that he did have the power to force from her what he wanted. To demand, command, oh, God, to seduce. And worst of all, he could draw from her a hunger, a need, and the searing, explosive response he wanted. She was a sensual creature. Once she had loved, and so she had wanted, ached, longed, and the result had been beautiful. This was different. And still...