Sean Patrick strolled to the next display of paintings. A pair of green cat's eyes stared through a whirl of purplesque foliage, a strange Cheshire-Cat effect that captured his gaze and held it. He was still waiting for the cat to blink at him when someone came up to his side. "I owe you an apology."
Sean Patrick glanced sideways to see Alan standing at his elbow, holding two drinks. "For what?"
"Jack on the Rocks is yours, I believe?"
"Thanks." He accepted the drink and looked around. "I didn't realize the bar was already open."
"It's not. I pulled a favor." He smiled a little, then continued, "I've been judging you based on what you are, instead of who you are, and I hate that. I shouldn't have done it. Lori is a grown woman, and she knows what she's doing."
Sean Patrick smiled. "Yeah, she does that. Talked to Bob, did you?"
"Yes, I did, and I spent time with you, and I learned I was wrong. I mean, I still worry about Lori, but not just because of you."
"How did you know what I am?" asked Sean Patrick. They walked through the gallery together, looking at the paintings as they talked. Alan stopped in front of a sizeable canvas that positively swirled with color. He didn't speak for a moment, gesturing with his glass toward it.
"She's brilliant," he said.
Sean Patrick nodded, looking at the painting. It was Alan, on stage, in what should have been a fairly typical rock star pose, holding the mic in one hand and the other flung above his head, but somehow Lori had captured so much power and movement in her painting it came to vibrant life in front of him, turning her subject into less a man on stage and more into some sort of wild cat on the hunt, his white hair a mane and his eyes molten gold. "At least you're fully dressed," he said with tongue somewhat in cheek, his lips twitching.
Alan laughed. "Well, I never could catch her. When I first met them, she was dating Ben."
Sean Patrick's eyebrows twitched upward in surprise. "I didn't know they'd been together."
"When they split I thought I might get a chance, but she found something else to attract her attention."
"You aren't talking about me, you know," said Sean Patrick.
"I know." He gestured toward the big main room where Nightwalker hung. "It was that. You were just… a side effect, I suppose."
Sean Patrick coughed, but nodded. "You never answered my question."
Alan licked his teeth. "I can see magic," he said after a slight hesitation that told Sean Patrick there was a great deal more to it than that. "Magickal creatures are easy."
"I had a housekeeper who could do that," was all Sean Patrick said in response, as he drew in a deep breath, taking in Alan's scent. The singer was drinking plain ginger ale without alcohol, and wore no cologne, just plain soap and deodorant and a faint hint of something like cinnamon. Sean Patrick could also smell his blood, flowing just below his dark skin, and there was something very strange—"You're not exactly human either, are you?" he asked in a low voice.
Alan's lips twitched, but he didn't respond.
Sean Patrick didn't ask any further questions. Either Alan would share his secret or he wouldn't, and even though he was burning with curiosity, he knew better than to pry. "I need a refill. You think the bar's open yet?"
"If not I can see if I can pull another favor," replied Alan.
When the doors finally opened and the public and the critics started to stream through the gallery, Sean Patrick found himself wandering the back rooms, away from the crowd. Back here Lori had hung her "lucrative, but not artistic" cowboy art, which he loved even if she didn't, and more importantly, he discovered within minutes he hated being anywhere near Capture A Moment. The extreme realism of the piece made sure that everyone who saw it recognized him, and the giggles and stares were making him uncomfortable. Even back here he could feel people looking at him, hear their whispers. He sat on one of the benches in front of a series of South Dakota studies and sipped his drink, munching canapés from any passing waiter while the noise from the crowd got louder. The muted whispers of an art gallery were giving way to full-fledged conversation and even the odd argument as more people came in to view Lori's work.
Sean Patrick was glad that most of what he overheard appeared to be largely favorable.
He was mentally working out which of the paintings he was planning to purchase when someone sat next to him. He looked sideways to see Lori's friend Janie. "Hiding?" she asked. "There's a crowd of girls out there who want to meet the hunk in the painting."
"Well, tough for them," he replied, but he was smiling as he said it, his ego stroked.
"Lori's looking for you," said Janie. "I said I'd dig you out."
"All righty." Sean Patrick rose. "Time for another drink, anyway."
"Come on. I'll make everyone jealous if I'm on your arm," said Janie, sliding her hand through the crook of his elbow.
"You sure? Don't they think I'm just an underpaid college model?"
"Not in that suit," said Janie, patting his arm. "You're not an underpaid anything. Those are Lucchese boots, aren't they? Everyone in South Dakota knows their cowboy boots."
"Actually, these're Paul Bond. The ones I was wearing last night at the bar were Lucchese," he said. "And yes, I'm showing off."
"I thought as much. I found him," said Janie, leading him back into the main gallery, where Lori was surrounded by people in front of Nightwalker.
Lori reached out to grab hold of Sean Patrick's hand, pulling him into the circle. "Here he is, my own Nightwalker."
Sean Patrick smiled and shook hands, listening to names and papers they wrote for, wondering how he managed to remember a song on one listen and yet he was certain he couldn’t have told one of these people from the other, other than the pretty one from Native American Quarterly.
Lori twined her fingers with his. "You're not having a good time, are you?" she whispered to him.
"I'm fine, honey. I'm happy for you."
"It won't be too much longer. Things are starting to wind down. They'll start taking sales here soon and then we'll see how successful I really am." He could feel her trembling against him, and the fingers of her other hand were clenched tight around her empty glass.
"Want another drink, honey?" he offered, giving arm a squeeze as he eased his hand out of her iron grip.
Sean Patrick returned with a fresh drink for himself and another vodka with a twist for Lori. She accepted it and blew him an absent kiss before being swept away with some of the crowd to the room where Capture A Moment was, so Sean Patrick went the other way. Eventually he found a desk where the business of art was being handled. A young man with dark hair and a quiet, pleasant smile looked up as Sean Patrick came up. "You're Sean Patrick," he said.
"You know me?"
"I know Lori's paintings," was the response. "I'm Jimmy Takahashi."
"Ah, one of the brothers." They shook hands. "Good to meet you. You're handling Lori's sales?"
"I am. What are you interested in?"
Sean Patrick took out the notes he'd made. "I would like Lone Horse, I want Cat's Eyes, Capture A Moment, and what do I have to do to get Nightwalker?"
"You're out of luck, there," said Jimmy. "Nightwalker's not for sale. But there will be a print run."
"Then reserve me print number one, and I'll be happy," said Sean Patrick, grinning.
"We'll see what we can do," replied Jimmy, grinning back, as he noted Sean Patrick's name at the top of the list. "Although you are not the first person to place an order, you are least the Nightwalker in question, so I may be able to pull a few strings for you." He started filling out the order forms. "And you don't have to buy Capture A Moment, there's notes here that says it's already yours, Lori gave it to you."
"That's sweet, but I don't mind paying for it," said Sean Patrick. "And the other two?"
"Jesus, she didn't even put a price on Lone Horse," said Jimmy, scowling at the paper he pulled out. "Half of the paintings in the Dakota room aren't priced. We'll have to work that one out."
"I want it, doesn't matter," said Sean Patrick. "She's worth it."
They chatted and negotiated for a while, Sean Patrick sitting back whenever someone else came to purchase a painting. They were still sitting there, discussing business, when Lori almost staggered in, leaning heavily on the doorframe. Her eyes were huge and bright and she was definitely not too steady on her feet.
"Ah, there you are," she said with a smile. She managed to get to his side, where she hugged his head and kissed his hair. "This has been a very good night."
"You don't know the half of it, sis," said Jimmy.
"You're very drunk, my darlin'," said Sean Patrick, putting an arm around her as she sagged against him.
"Certainly I am, and I feel fine," she replied. She leaned very close to Sean Patrick and almost whispered, "I want to take you back to your hotel and do very naughty things to you." She was just loud enough that Jimmy heard, and laughed at her even as Sean Patrick both blushed and squeezed her, nodding. She grinned triumphantly and stuck her tongue out at her brother.
"Are there still folks here?" Sean Patrick asked.
"They're just clearing everyone out now," she replied. "Am I wealthy yet?" she asked Jimmy.
"It's a damned good start," said Jimmy, stacking receipts. "You sold more than half, and we took orders for nearly a hundred prints, most of them for Nightwalker."
"I rock," said Lori, sitting on Sean Patrick's lap and winding an arm around his neck.
"Yes, darlin', you do," said Sean Patrick fondly, winking at Jimmy, who was shaking his head in exasperation.
"Take her home and put her to bed. I won't play big brother, I'll ignore the 'naughty' thing." Jimmy handed Sean Patrick his own receipts and started to pack the rest into his briefcase.
"You'll ship those to me?"
"The paintings will go out in three weeks, when the show closes, and the print when they're done," said Jimmy. "I have to go put the sold signs up before I clear out of here, though, so we don't resell anything tomorrow." He grinned. "Goodnight, sis." He kissed Lori on the cheek, shook hands with Sean Patrick again, and hustled out of the room.
Sean Patrick tucked his arm tightly around Lori as they went to the cloak room to get their things. He pulled on his overcoat, wrapping his scarf around his face and ears before pulling on his gloves, then turned to assist Lori into her coat.
The cold still hit him like a slap in the face as they left the gallery. Sean Patrick was shivering so badly he had a hard time opening the Mustang's doors, but he got them both inside and the engine turned over. "It's gonna take a few minutes before you'll be able to put her in gear, you know," said Lori. "She's cold."
"Okay," Sean Patrick replied, his teeth chattering.
"Poor cold vampire," said Lori, reaching across the central console to rub his thigh provocatively. "I know a way to heat things up." She made sure the shift gear was in neutral before leaning further toward him, her breath wonderfully hot on his face. He turned and pulled his scarf down so they could kiss while the car warmed up. She put her hands on his cheeks, playing her fingers through his sideburns. "You're like ice."
"I can't believe you talked me into coming to freakin' South Dakota in January," he replied, lightly running his tongue over the curve of her lower lip. "I must like you a little bit."
"What a compliment," she replied. "Mmm." She kissed him again, then curled her hand over his. "Let's see if we can get her moving."
Sean Patrick didn't want to take his face away from hers, she was so warm and smelled so nice, but he did. The engine had warmed up enough that the heater was working and he was able to ease it into gear. "A shame you're not good to drive, darlin'," he said, easing them out of the icy parking space, "It's been a long time since I last had to drive on ice."
"You'll do fine," she replied. "Just take her nice and easy."
Sean Patrick gripped the wheel and tried to feel the way the tires were moving. Were they on the asphalt, or sliding over it on a sheet of ice? He couldn’t remember the last time he'd driven in icy conditions, and it was somewhat unnerving. If it wasn't so cold, he'd have been tempted to just pick Lori up and carry her over the few miles they needed to go, which would have taken far less time than crawling through the frozen streets in the marginally warmer Mustang.
Then again, he was wearing cowboy boots, not snow boots. He didn't relish the thought of slipping on the ice when running at top speed and carrying a human. Vampires could move fast but couldn't make slick boot heels cling to ice.
He drove feeling nervous, his hands practically glued to the wheel, but they made it with no adverse incidents and hastened across the parking lot into the warmth of the bed & breakfast as quickly as they dared, with Lori none too steady on her feet and Sean Patrick as unused to walking on icy pavement as he was to driving on it. The hard-packed earth and crushed grasses that led out to Bob's place had been easy to run on. The sidewalk was like sliding around on a newly-waxed marble floor.
He rather expected Lori was writing a check she couldn't cash with her overt flirting, but to his surprise she was on him almost the moment they closed the room door behind them, not fumbling in the slightest as she briskly undressed him.
"You know, we're not in any hurry," he managed when her lips parted from his for a moment.
"Oh, shut up," she said, shoving him backward onto the bed and pausing only a moment to drop her dress to the floor, followed by her bra. Sean Patrick leaned on his elbows and watched her, a lazy smile crossing his face. She grinned in response, straddling his thighs, her knees tightening on his hips. "You have a lot of work to do, mister."
Sean Patrick dropped back, reaching for her to drag her down across his chest. He kissed her slowly, his tongue lingering against hers. She still tasted like oranges and vodka, sweet and spicy and thoroughly satisfying. She slid her hands down his body, easing herself onto his hardening cock. She took the lead, her libido apparently unaffected by the alcohol, moving against him with an increasing demand, sitting up to rock against him, hands spread out on his chest. Sean Patrick peaked first, shouting out his release, but she was far from being finished.
They rolled together, tangling in each other's arms and the sheets. Lori always seemed to end up on top, pressing down on his shoulders while she gripped his hips with her thighs. "You can't be finished already, vampire," she said.
"You're a powerhouse when you're drunk, gal. I should have plied you with alcohol sooner," he replied, actually panting a little. "But I think you're a match for me tonight."
Lori laughed. "Oh, you don't get to rest yet. I'm not done."
"All right, gal."
"Bite me," she demanded, falling back and pulling him on top. "And let me know it."
"Your wish is my command," he breathed. He wrapped one arm around her, lowering her to the mattress as his other hand trailed down her belly to feather between her legs, seeking her softness and warmth. His fangs extended as he bent over her, but Lori gripped his face, staring at him. "What?"
"I want to look at the color of your eyes when your fangs are out," she said softly.
"While I'm doing this?" he asked, dipping his fingers inside her and rubbing his thumb over the soft swell of her clit. Her hips writhed against his hand, but her eyes didn't move from his face.
"Hold that thought," she whispered, then whimpered a little at the back of her throat, a mingling of pleasure and barely contained frustration. "Oh, you're so pretty. So very pretty."
"Handsome, please," he hissed through his fangs. He gripped the back of her neck. "I'll pose for you later with my fangs out."
"Yes, please…" her voice trailed off as Sean Patrick tilted her head to one side and bent to close his lips over her the soft pulse at her throat.
He wanted to taste her slowly, savor the vibrant emotion that flowed through her, and he did so, easing his fingers into her, then out again, making her tremble. She gripped his upper arms, pulling him closer, moaning with increasing passion as he drank, opening his entire being to the psychic connection that could be formed between a vampire and human through the blood bond, and she was clear to him, too. She was fire and light and color and sheer unabashed joy, her feelings for him a jumbled wonderful mess of affection and fascination. He wanted to drink forever. He drew back with reluctance, licking her neck to savor every last drop and close the wounds his fangs had made.
Lori turned her head to capture his mouth with hers, to kiss him deeply as he brought her to a shuddering climax. She ground her hips against his hand, eager for more, still hungry and demanding. Sean Patrick let her roll him back, holding her against his chest. "How is it you haven't passed out yet?" he gasped. It took a lot to get him short of breath, but she'd done it.
She stroked his chest, playing her fingers through his sparse chest hair. "I'm too hyper," she replied, but she did sound drowsy. "I never dreamed I could outlast a vampire."
"Wear out, but not outlast. I'm still good," he said, but he really wasn't sure he could, and Lori knew it. She gave him a sideways look, one eyebrow arching, but she just kissed his chest, working her way up his neck to his mouth.
"Tell me something," she whispered, her voice near his ear, "just between us."
"Have you ever… when a girl has her period… you know," she was blushing so furiously he could feel her body warming up, and he felt his own face flame with the memories.
"Yes," he admitted, swallowing as he remembered the amazing taste of the rich menstrual blood, the unmitigated strength and sensuality. It had made him warm all over, down deep into his bones. It was his favorite, dark and dirty secret, something he had rarely shared with anyone. Lori seemed to see that in the expression on his face.
"Makes me almost wish mine were closer. And the last time you were here it was when you, well, weren't at your best."
"Damn," he muttered. "Pardon."
Lori chuckled and rested her cheek against his chest. "I like the way you apologize to women for swearing. It's so silly and Victorian. And totally you."
Sean Patrick kissed her unruly curls. "Yeah, well." He dropped his head back to the pillow, his eyes sliding shut.