Lori rested on him, listening to his breathing quieting until it was almost nonexistent, feeling the extremely slow but steady beat of a vampire pulse against her face. It seemed to throb once for every fifteen or twenty of her own, just enough to let her know that what she'd learned from Dakota Bob about 'Nightwalkers' was true. Not undead creatures at all, but creatures imbued with delightful magickal life. Extraordinary.
She still couldn't sleep. She was a little drunk, thrilling from the sex, relaxed and warm and lazy, but somehow too wired to let it all go. In sleep she wouldn't remember the amazing things she'd heard about her paintings, the way people had complimented her art, the one thing that had always been her defining point. She closed her eyes a moment, remembering when she really had gone for Sean Patrick, and that was when he had, out of the blue, mentioned her art not even realizing it was hers.
She'd never met anyone else who had known her art before they knew her. Lori let out a slow breath, not wanting to disturb him, and eased carefully out of the circle of his arm. He stirred, but didn't wake up. Funny vampire, he could wake instantly most of the time, and then sleep like this. Like he trusted her or something. When she came out of the bathroom, she eased part of the curtain open and looked out. The sun was coming up, cold red light starting to show the bleak winter landscape. He chosen one of the quaint little Bed & Breakfasts this time, and it was decidedly more homey than the hotel room had been. He'd gotten a suite of rooms, a bedroom and a sitting room and a little office as well as a private bath. Lori had always wanted to see the inside of this old house, way out by the vineyards on the edge of town. It was as pretty as she'd hoped.
The bathroom was old fashioned, but they had installed a gloriously modern bath, which she filled with hot water and bubbles. She soaked until the water grew chilly, then got out and pulled on the luxurious rust-colored robe that hung on the door.
There was more light in the rooms, coming in over the tops of the curtains, giving her ample illumination to make her way into the sitting room. He'd been reading Slaughterhouse Five and something called The Life of Pi the last time he'd been here; now there were three books sitting on the table, David McCullough's John Adams, Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris, and, oddly enough, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Grinning, she looked at the popcorn vampire book and the kiddie book, so oddly out of place with someone who seemed to be such a serious reader. She wondered if he read any other vampire books, stories about creatures that really had so very little in common with him.
Flipping through the pages of the Harry Potter book, she found four receipts from the gallery. On top was the purchase order for a print of The Nightwalker, and she chuckled when she saw Jimmy had written "he gets print #1" on it. Behind that one was a receipt for Capture A Moment. "Silly boy," she muttered. "That was supposed to be a gift." He'd also bought Cat's Eyes and, of all absurd things, Lone Horse. Lori sighed.
"Did you get any sleep?" Sean Patrick's voice behind her made her jump. He leaned over the back of the sofa, looking drowsy and tousled.
"Not really," she said. "You actually bought Lone Horse?"
"I like it," he replied.
"It's a boring, uninspired throwaway. I hung it there to fill a space."
"It's pretty, and I like cowboy art. You know that about me already."
"But you could have gone for one of the Dakota studies, or something," she fretted. "You buy stuff like that and I'm going to think you're only supporting my art because you're my friend."
Sean Patrick laughed. "Hey, you're lucky I didn't tell you goes with my décor," he said, raising a somewhat mocking eyebrow. Lori stuck her tongue out at him. "Honey, when I walked in that back room, the first thing I saw was that horse. It spoke to me. Isn't that what art's supposed to do?"
"I suppose," she admitted, although she looked askance at him, doubting him. There had been a number of paintings she'd put up because she needed to fill space, but they weren't exactly ones she'd planned on selling, she'd sort of expected they'd end up as nothing more than place fillers until she had better and then she could get rid of them all. "It's just a painting of a horse," she muttered. "Nothing artistic about it."
"It's a beautiful portrait of a gorgeous pale gold palomino, just like a gold palomino I raised, years and years ago," he said. He came around the sofa and put an arm around her. "He meant a lot to me, and it looked just like you'd painted him just for me, a real painting for me, not a picture of me. That painting looks just like Le Roi Du Soleil, a horse I owned back during the war. I raised him from a colt, he was my best buddy, and I called him Roy. I have some old faded photographs of him, but this is like he's right there again."
"World War II," he said, chuckling. "If I remember correctly, Roy was born in thirty-five or thirty-six. He could run like the wind."
"What's with the racehorse name?" she asked, tucking his receipts back into his book.
"Well, he was a registered thoroughbred," he replied with a grin. "He had his registry name, even though I never raced him, I could have. He certainly sired some winners in his time. He lived thirty-two years, and was running and jumping five-rail fences well into his twenties, before I let him out to pasture." He hugged her around the neck. "I miss him sometimes."
"You like to ride."
"Yep," he replied.
"You'll have to come back in summertime. There's a couple of stables that do midnight rides."
"I'd love to," he said. "I used to take the kids for night rides when we lived in Malibu." He kissed the side of her head. "Come on back to bed now, honey." He stood with a flourish, sweeping her up off the sofa into his arms. Lori swallowed a shriek of delighted surprise. "You look good in my robe," he said.
Lori hugged his neck. "I somehow thought it was the hotel's, you know, one of those complimentary things."
Sean Patrick laughed at her. "Honey, even the Four Seasons doesn't have robes like this one," he said. "You don't wanna know how much it cost."
Lori rubbed her cheek against the velvety softness of the robe's lining, her fingers smoothing the silk exterior. "Sure, tell me."
Sean Patrick tossed her lightly to the bed, following after. She lay back as he untied the belt. "You may have guessed I rather like luxury."
"No kidding," she said, gripping his face and looking at him. "Put your fangs out," she demanded. "I want to see."
Sean Patrick raised an eyebrow, but he did as she asked. She watched with delighted fascination as his eyes turned from brown to a glowing, warm umber, and his jaw lengthened as the wicked fangs extended. Lori examined him. "Maybe I should ask you to sit for me like this," she said, running her fingers over the edge of his jaw.
"Thinking on it, maybe it's not such a good idea," he whispered, his voice lisping around his fangs.
"It's not like anyone who ever saw it would know who you were," she said. "Here," she wiggled out from under him and grabbed her sketchbook from the nightstand. "See?"
Sean Patrick took it from her, sitting back to study the sketch she'd made of him, fangs out, and he frowned a little. "Is that what I look like?" he asked.
"Yeah, don't you know?"
"I don't show up in a mirror, honey. I've never seen myself fangs-out." He continued to study the pen-and-ink drawing she'd done from memory, but she was pleased to see, comparing it to him there, she'd captured him pretty well. "I suppose I could have someone take a picture, but that's chancy."
"Well, it's pretty perfect, if I do say so myself," she said with pleasure, holding it next to his face before carelessly tossing it back over the edge of the bed and holding out her arms to him. "I'm betting you haven't fed."
"You'd lose, Bob fed me before the show," he replied, gathering her close. "And if you'll recall, you just offered yourself, not five hours ago."
"Still hungry?" she asked, leaning her head back to show the expanse of her neck. She saw the glow of his eyes as he bent over her. Losing herself in the heat of passion, Lori opened herself to him. He was, for the moment, everything.
"Oh, she's getting tired of me," said Sean Patrick, taking a healthy swallow of his beer and putting down the glass as Alan waved to the waitress for another round. "There just hasn't been anyone new to capture her eye."
Alan shook his head. "It's still not how I see it," he replied, sitting back to allow the waitress access to the table. She placed a fresh pitcher down, followed by the big barbecue bacon burger for Sean Patrick and a rather gigantic T-bone steak for Alan.
Sean Patrick eyed Alan's plate. "I should have ordered that," he said with regret.
"Buyer's remorse," said Alan, cutting into the steak to reveal it was thoroughly pink inside, bloody rare.
"Ah, man," muttered Sean Patrick, biting into his own rare burger. "We even like it cooked the same way."
Although Alan heaped butter and sour cream on the baked potato that come with his steak, he appeared to only eat those, leaving most of the potato behind. Sean Patrick ate all of his fries, and was eyeing Alan's potato, when Lori finally came in. She dropped into the empty chair between them and poured herself a glass of beer.
"Five more sales," she said triumphantly.
"Good for you," said Alan. "Set for life, yet?"
"Hah. Now it just means I have to work nine times as hard to keep up the pace, and still finish school. I'm going to be very very busy for the next few years." She paused as the waitress came back to the table to clear away Sean Patrick's and Alan's plates, and ordered her own burger. Another pitcher of beer hit the table as Ben and Janie joined them.
"So we're gonna lose you soon, I take it?" Alan asked, going back to the conversation he and Sean Patrick had been having earlier.
"Time for me to get home," Sean Patrick replied, sitting back with his glass and crossing his ankles under the table. "I have enjoyed every second here, but I do have a business to run."
"Well, we'll be seeing you in March," said Ben. "We set that up before we came back up here."
"I hope I get a chance to finally get to see the Nightmare," said Lori, "but it won't be until the semester's over. I have too much work to do."
Sean Patrick looked at her, but her attention was on her dinner, and not really on anyone at the table. He nodded at Alan, who smiled back, shaking his head. A tight little pain was starting in the middle of Sean Patrick's chest, but he forced it down, trying to squeeze it before it could squeeze him.
"Hey. Are either of you two going to sing tonight?" asked Janie, refilling her glass.
"I'm game," said Sean Patrick, glad to put away his internal mooning for a time. Bob was right, he was definitely falling for her, if he hadn't already gone. He was going to miss her, more than just a little. He tossed his napkin to the table and finished his beer. "Order me something stronger, would you, honey?"
"Sure," said Lori, sparing him a quick smile.
"What can I sing for you? Anything. This one's for you," he said, bending over her just a moment, just to smell her hair. She'd probably spend tonight with him, probably, but once he was gone tomorrow, he had a feeling that the promised "visit to Los Angeles" would be a long time coming.
Lori looked around the table, then up at him with pleading eyes. "Could you sing Bridge Over Troubled Water?" she asked in a soft voice. "I know it won't play well here but it's my favorite, and I'd love to hear you do it."
Sean Patrick brightened. "Well, now, honey, why didn't you tell me you liked Simon and Garfunkel? I can do that." He winked at her and sauntered to the stage, meeting the waitress who brought him his Jack on the Rocks. He sat down at the piano, running a quick scale to warm up, then began the tune.
Someone in the audience made a derisive noise at the sound of the soft folk song starting. Sean Patrick glanced up and grinned. "Now, now," he said into the mic. "None of that. I do requests from anyone who asks, and this is for a special lady." He started to sing. Within a few bars the grumbling seemed to fade away, and by the end, the room exploded in cheers. Sean Patrick smiled again.
"One more for her," he said. "What else do you like, sugar?"
Lori made a face at him. "Anything by Billy Joel," she called back.
"Except 'Still Rock-and-Roll To Me,'" shouted Alan. Lori punched him, and a lot of people laughed.
Sean Patrick chuckled and lightly ran his fingers over the keys, running through songs in his head. He decided on 'Miami 2017,' which was long and hardly a dancing song, but it was great on piano and one his favorites. By the end people were sending up requests and he fell into his old favored pattern of playing and singing any song anyone wanted to hear, the rest of the guys coming up to join him. Eventually Alan swung himself up to join them. After the first set, Sean Patrick excused himself, letting Alan sit at the piano.
"Why'd you stop?" asked Lori when he returned to the table.
"Because I want to dance," he replied, taking her hand in his.
"You dance, too?"
"Of course I can dance." He swung her up and into his arms. "I learned to dance when I was a boy, just like any well-brought up young man."
Lori laughed. "That's right, I forgot. Victorian gentleman that you are! I just hope I can follow a real dance."
"You'll do fine." He led her into the Texas two-step the band was playing.
Sean Patrick considered telling her how much he was going to miss her when he left, but she looked so happy as he squired her around the floor he was loathe to spoil it by saying anything that would make him come off as wistful or needy. Even if he was, at the moment, a little of both.
"So have you enjoyed South Dakota, this time?" she asked, as they danced close to one another as Alan sang the old "Waltz Across Texas."
"I have," he replied. "Even if it is colder than a penguin's backside out there."
"And even if you don't like my taste in art."
"You're awful. I'm going to re-do Lone Horse just for you, and you'll see the difference," she said, still laughing at him.
"I look forward to it."