All his life, wizard Raphael Tarayaud has dreamed of a vampire—first as a friend, then as a lover. His search for his missing soul mate brings him to the attention of Sebastien Noyer, one of his childhood heroes. While Sebastien isn’t his soul mate, he could be the perfect partner for Raphael’s best friend Kylian Raffier.
As strange coincidences mount up, Raphael offers his research expertise to try and help Kylian and Sebastien understand what is happening to them, though the more he learns, the less he likes it. But it won’t keep him from fighting with everything he has to secure Kylian’s future.
When he finally meets Jean Bellaiche, former chef de la Cour and grieving widower, the meeting is disastrous, but Raphael can’t let it go. He doesn’t stand a chance with Jean—who could compete with the ghost of Raymond Payet?—but nothing can stop him from dreaming.
Angélique returned a few minutes later with a smiling Florence behind her. Sebastien ignored Angélique and offered his hand to Florence. She laughed at him as she always did and leaned in to kiss both his cheeks. “We know each other too well for that,” she scolded when she had finished.
He could hardly argue with that. He had visited her regularly for ten years now. She was not always available when he needed to feed, and he did not always come to Sang Froid, but he always asked for her first when he did. “I suppose we do,” he agreed, though he would leave it to her to cross the line from acquaintances to friends the next time he came as well. “Do you have some time free for me tonight?”
“Of course I do,” she said with a smile. “Come, we will find a quiet place to be together.”
They would talk, and he would feed, and that would be the extent of it, but the turn of phrase she always used left him missing Thierry each time. Sometimes he thought she did it on purpose, to remind him of what he had shared with Thierry and to remind him he could have, if not that, then something meaningful, again. He had never asked if Angélique put her up to it. He was not sure he wanted to know.
He followed her through the warren of halls and rooms to the one she was using that evening. “What’s on your mind?” she asked as soon as the door shut behind him.
He slumped into a chair. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“At the beginning, of course,” she replied, taking a seat opposite him on the elegant divan. “Where else would you begin a story?”
He chuckled a little. So like her to go straight to the heart of the matter. “Angélique and I are worried about Jean. It’s been thirty years, and he’s made no effort to return to any kind of normal life. I know he loved Raymond, and I know that kind of loss doesn’t just go away, but he’s stuck in limbo—not dead, but not living either—and that isn’t what Raymond wanted.”
“Would it be kinder just to let him go?” Florence asked. “I know you want to pull him back and to see him return to the man he was, but have you considered that it might not be possible?”
“More than once,” Sebastien admitted, “but he isn’t the first vampire to lose an Avoué or to lose a wizard partner, and we’ve all learned to go on.”
“But he is the only surviving vampire to lose both at once. You’ve told me repeatedly how the Aveu de Sang makes everything between a vampire and his lover more intense. When you add to that the benefits of having a wizard as a partner, it’s no surprise he’s still grieving.”
The reminder of losing Orlando pinched at Sebastien’s heart, but he had understood Orlando’s choice then in a way Jean had not. Orlando had only ever loved Alain. There had never been anyone else for him, and there never would be. Jean had loved before, and Sebastien truly believed he would love again if he would only open himself to the possibility.
“Not quite,” Sebastien replied slowly. “My second bond with Thierry might not have been an Aveu de Sang in name, but it mimicked every root characteristic we could think of, and I’m still here.”
“As you say. Your concern for Jean isn’t new. What changed tonight?”
“Angélique convinced me to check out a list of clubs where I might be able to take Jean hunting,” Sebastien explained.
“And you thought this was a good idea? You realize her taste is somewhat skewed, don’t you?”
Sebastien had heard rumors over the years, but he had never been invited to Angélique’s bed and probably would not have gone even if he had been. “It was a perfectly normal club. The only problem is that I was recognized before I even got in the door. I can’t take Jean somewhere like that. Not at first, anyway.”
“So you turned around and left,” Florence said.
“No, I stayed and had a drink and met… someone,” Sebastien said slowly.
“Someone?” Florence repeated. “That’s intriguingly vague.”
“A man,” Sebastien specified. “I didn’t get his name, but we talked, mostly about his friend, who is determined to snare a vampire. It wouldn’t have been anything out of the ordinary, except that he’s a wizard.”
“You didn’t get his name, but you found out he’s a wizard? There’s something backward about that,” Florence observed.
“That’s sort of the way the conversation went,” Sebastien said with a shrug. “In retrospect, everything about it was backward from the minute I saw him.”
“Oh, so that’s the way it is,” Florence gloated as she leaned forward. “Tell me more.”
Sebastien almost refused, but he had to talk to someone, and Jean would not want to hear about it. Jean wouldn’t say anything, but then he rarely said anything no matter what Sebastien did. The silence said far more about his state of mind than any words could have done, so Sebastien tried to respect that as much as he could. Angélique would listen, but he would have to put up with that damned knowing smile she always wore when anything personal came up in conversation.
“I don’t know what to say,” Sebastien replied. “That’s the problem. I’ve hunted since Thierry died. I’ve been attracted to people since then. I’ve had sex since then. Going to a club and seeing an attractive young man shouldn’t have been a problem—but I’ve been completely unsettled since I first laid eyes on him, and I can’t figure out why.”
“Could it be because he’s a wizard?” Florence asked.
“Possibly,” Sebastien admitted. “With anyone else, feeding is just feeding and sex is just sex, but with a wizard, there’s the chance of it being more. I stumbled into my relationship with Thierry and was lucky to find someone I could work with and eventually love. Not everyone was as lucky, and I don’t want to take the chance of my luck running out this time.”
“That’s why you get to know him first,” Florence said. “It’s what the rest of us mortals do before we make a commitment to someone. We go out, we talk, we get to know each other, and we decide if we’re compatible. If we are, we keep seeing each other. If we aren’t, we stop.”
“Once I bite him, it’s all over if he’s my partner,” Sebastien said. He could find out if Kylian was his partner with a wave of his wand, of course, since his partner’s magic wouldn’t work on him, but that didn’t resolve his issue with whether to act on the attraction.
“Then don’t bite him until you know if you can be with him,” Florence said in exasperation. “Really, you’d think a vampire of your age would have enough self-control to go out with someone or even sleep with someone without feeding from him.”
Ariel Tachna lives outside of Houston with her husband, her daughter and son, and their two dogs. Before moving there, she traveled all over the world, having fallen in love with France, where she met her husband, and India, where she hopes to retire some day. She’s bilingual with snippets of four other languages to her credit and is as in love with languages as she is with writing.