Jade shook her head ruefully. “Just as old as you see me. I met Lucian a few years ago. He saved my life.” She flushed slightly. “He believes that I saved his as well.”

“But . ..” Ann murmured. “You’ll age, and he will not.”

“We’ve not really worried about that yet. He was deeply concerned at first, knowing that I wanted a family. But by happenstance ... we’ve adopted a son. And he’s gorgeous.”

“I don’t understand,” Tara said. “Every time I think I do, I get confused again. Lucian is a vampire—a good vampire, a part of the Alliance now.”

“Not really a part. He has known about it, and in our current times, it’s a natural coalition.”

“Crosses don’t bother either of them because at heart they still have a deep belief in an afterlife and the sanctity of God and man. If I have this right, it’s kind of like hypnotism—if you’re not an evil person, you can’t be talked into doing evil under the power of the hypnotist?”

“Kind of,” Jade said, “but the question of free will comes in often. A vampire can be driven by natural instincts, just as man can be driven. It’s a question of what’s right, and what’s wrong, and learning to exist by a code that respects others. The world is always shifting—our world is always shifting, new fears, new friends, new enemies. It’s the same in the world we can’t really touch. The rules have changed in the new order. But yes, I suppose it boils down to the classic fight man always wages within himself, a battle between the capabilities of doing good and doing evil.”

“Why doesn’t Lucian change you then?” Ann asked.

“Because he doesn’t know what the end brings,” Jade told her. “I’m willing to take any chance. Lucian isn’t. I was bitten once, but like you ... I healed. And he still doesn’t really know about the immortal soul, and so ...”

Tara plunged in then, asking frankly, “What about werewolves?”

“What about them?”

“Do they live forever?”

Tara sipped her coffee. “No. But they age far more slowly than an average man. They have their weaknesses, and their strengths. And like any other creature, they learn with age. At the beginning, as I understand it, Brent had little control. He was subject to the pull of the moon, losing all power over himself when it was full, having little ability—unless he was under extreme duress—to change when there was no moon. But he’s learned over the decades. He has tremendous abilities. And in his desire to inflict torture, Gerard endowed him with incredible strengths.” She leaned forward, a slight smile curling her lips as she told Tara, “We all have to make decisions, and choices, you know. But then, I’m not really sure that you do have as many choices as someone else. You must realize yourself now that you have been born to the Alliance. There are many more who are Alliance across the world. They may not all know it yet ... and usually, in times of need, they somehow find one another.” She looked at Ann. “You have a choice. Perhaps it’s already been made.”

Ann shrugged and asked Jade, “Is there... has there ever been a cure for vampirism?”

“No ... well, yes, but I only know of one case where a vampire returned to a mortal life. And that was rather a different case. Back home, in Charleston, where Lucian and I and our ... group is centered, there’s a woman. Maggie. Brent knows her well. She was here, in France, after the war, and she was a great source of help for him at that time. And now... well, long story, but she’s married to a cop in New Orleans, and I’m sure that Brent will tell you all about her, except, of course, that you should all come and visit. There are really too many stories to try to explain by simple conversation.” Tara stared at her, smiling suddenly. New Orleans. She loved the city. It would be wonderful to visit—and understand.

“Strange,” she told Ann, “to think that the last time we were sitting here ...”

“I was bemoaning the loss of a monster!” Ann said with a shudder.

“Yes, but you came through.”

“And now I’m debating a life with a different vampire,” Ann said.

Tara laughed. “At least you know a little more ... Jade, you said that vampires can’t have children. What about—werewolves.“

“Brent Malone is really a man like any other—with a few special abilities. Oh, there are so many arguments! Are these things all illusion, chemical changes? What are the true properties of matter?

Throughout time, I’m afraid, no one has had the real answer.”

“If my cousin marries Brent,” Ann said with stern practically, “is she likely to have a litter?”

“Ann!” Tara said.

“Well, it’s what you’re asking, isn’t it?” Ann said indignantly.

“You’d be most likely to have lovely children,” Jade said.

Tara didn’t say any more. She could see that the men, who had been in the airline office in the middle of the block, were returning.

“We’re all set,” Lucian said. “But I’m afraid we leave now.” Rick looked at Ann. “You’re sure you’re coming?” he asked.

“Definitely,” she told him.

“Time to say our goodbyes then,” Lucian murmured.

And so they did. In a very natural way, hugs and kisses all around, American style, French style.

And it was strange, of course, because Tara was staying on in France for a few weeks while Ann was going to the States on vacation with Rick.

In the end, the promise was that they would all see one another soon.

Then the others were gone, and Tara was left at the table with Brent. He ordered a coffee, and smiled at her ruefully across the table.

“So ...”

“A werewolf, eh?”

“I’m afraid so.”

She was silent, watching him.

“I can go away,” he said softly. “Walk away from your you, and your life, and leave you in peace.” She leaned close to him. “Don’t even think about trying it. I’m Alliance, you know. I’d hunt you down to the ends of the earth.” He lowered his head, but not before she saw the light that touched his eyes.

Shimmering. Golden. She loved it.

He looked up. “So what shall we do?”

“Um,” she mused. “Let’s see ... you don’t actually fly, do you? I’d kind of had this fantasy about being swept away to the highest spires in the city, and ravished there, of course.”

“Very uncomfortable,” he told her, shaking his head. “I could kind of fly with you into the deepest forests, up the highest mountains... but you’re facing the same problems there. You know, stones, rocks, twigs, scratchy things. Not exactly what I had in mind.” He was joking, speaking lightly, but he took her hands, looked down at them, and then into her eyes. “Actually, it doesn’t matter to me where I am, if I’m with you. But you’ve had a tremendous amount to grasp and understand lately, and to me ... well, I’m asking a lot of you. You’re an incredibly beautiful, talented woman. You left a full life behind you—it’s waiting, if you wish to return.”

She smiled slowly, choosing her words. “My old life is waiting ... but before then, I was waiting. I knew that there was something else out there, waiting for me. The Alliance, what happened here, yes. But something else. I never told you, but the dream began long before I came here. The dream, the nightmare, the premonition, whatever it might be called. And from the beginning, within it all, I was calling to someone. Brent, you’re what I’ve been waiting for my whole life. And if you were to walk away from me, I’d spend the rest of my life waiting for you to come back.“

“You really do understand all about me?” he queried. “I’ve been around a long time, you know. I wouldn’t want to pretend. There have been others all along the way, but never ... never like this. I never felt ... all right, in all honesty, at first I was so afraid for you. There was the terrible need to be with you.

And then I knew that it was more than fear, the need to protect. It was, perhaps, the same. As if there could be nothing ... until I saw you that day in the crypt, and from then on, every move I made cast me deeper and deeper into longing ...”

“I like that. Nice to hear I was really desirable.”

“Well, that, yes. But longing for much more. It was the same ... as if I had been waiting.”

“But I’m afraid that my appearance gave us serious problems. You might have stopped Louisa from ever rising.”

He shook his head. “If she hadn’t escaped that night, we might not have known about Gerard being here. I’m not anywhere near as old as Lucian, so I didn’t really understand what happened during the Sun King’s day. Nor would I have envisioned that her legendary lover might have been the man—the man who caused me such agony during the war. He had been so careful here, as well, kidnapping or seducing his victims, hiding the bodies ... until he grew careless. He could have gone on for months, years, undetected. I don’t know ... I believe in the free will of man—a free will even when the normal course of a man’s life is disrupted.

And yet ... it’s hard not to think that it was destiny, when you appeared in the crypt that day.“ She smoothed a finger over the top of his hand. “Well, then, if it’s destiny, we should accept the fact that we’re meant to be together.”

“Well, then ...” he murmured, repeating her words. And he met her eyes again with a rueful grin. “Rocky hilltop, elegant hotel room. Hm. My vote is for the Ritz.”

“The Ritz ... sounds lovely.”

“A short stay, or extended?”

“Extended, of course. Katia and Roland are with Jacques ... he’s quite all right. And you seem to think that I need time ... and I do. Endless days, and nights, of course.”

“Life will never really be normal again, you know,” he said softly.