Dark Fantasies

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Chapter 8: Flashpoint of Desire

So, she took the hand Devon patiently held out to her and they hurried out of the ballroom without so much as a second backward glance, scurrying to one of the many secret doorways as soon as they were out of the ballroom and into the corridor once more, and swiftly on their way to the foyer.

They passed through the locked door as though it wasn’t there, and were hurrying down the stairs to avoid being detained as they descended. A few staircases later, and they were in front of the heavy door into the playroom as Devon took her into his arms again, and she sighed in rising passion and relief to be alone with him once more as his hands began to roam along her sides and their lips met, parted and met again as their enjoyment increased.

Fumbling for the key in the playroom lock where she habitually kept it as they continued to kiss, she unlocked the door, and pushed it open as they staggered into the pitch dark of the room. Then Devon paused for a second or so, reaching to close the door, enclosing them in near total darkness, though it was only dimly lit to their eyes. And she knew that he had brought the key in with them when she heard the door shut and the key turn in the lock, securing their privacy for a while.

As he did, she was quickly shucking out of her clothes, and she knew he was too as he approached the bed where she already waited for him. Opening her arms to him, she held him close as she whispered, “Thank you for rescuing me back there, by the way, lover. Not that the dancing was boring, or Henri... but...”

“But you don’t find him interesting in this way, do you, my pet?” Devon asked as he reached beyond Joanna’s head for the smooth ropes that were attached to the bedposts and began gently tying her to the bed while she was nuzzling the side of his throat. “Go ahead, my love, if you need to feed. You know it won’t hurt me.” Devon whispered as he felt her begin to bite down and then stop for a heartbeat before she finished opening the artery to her satisfaction.

“Ohhh, yes,” he sighed rapturously as she began to drink, and he finished tying one arm to the post nearest it. But he waited until she had finished and had sealed the wounds once again, and he was able to catch his breath from the resultant orgasm feeding her had given him before he was able to finish tying her to the bed.

As soon as her bonds were as tight as he thought they should be, he climbed onto the bed and lay between her legs, resting his head on her right thigh for a few seconds before he could continue. “My pet,” he whispered as he rested and regained his breath from where his orgasm had sent it to hide, “I love you, Joanna... and I am grateful that you are willing to give yourself to me in this wonderful release. I hope you enjoy what I do this time...”

Then, he slowly slid one finger deep into her anus as he very slowly slid only the tip of one finger of his other hand between her labia to gently tease her clit in slow circles until she was writhing in her bonds and crying out in nearly breathless delight as her second orgasm washed over her.

He hadn’t done more than slide a single finger deeply into her sphincter and hold it there before that orgasm; he hadn’t even moved that hand, she realized as he began to move it slowly deeper, then shallower, then deeper again inside her a few seconds after she had come down from the first waves of her orgasm.

After a few seconds of this, she felt him doing something different; he was licking the insides of her thighs as he continued to slide his finger in and out in her anus. Then he suddenly dipped to slide his tongue all the way into her passage, as she gasped, “oh... GODS, Devon!!” arching to meet his thrust with her hips.

And as he continued to deeply penetrate her with his incredibly agile tongue, she suddenly realized his entire fist was up her ass now, stroking her more deeply and rhythmically than his single long finger had been able to do as she cried out in wordless enjoyment, making the room ring with her pleasure as her orgasm approached, then retreated once more.

She felt as though she was going to explode into orgasm this time, but just before she could, Devon slid his fist free, and slowly removed his tongue, substituting his member for his tongue and one of the stoyrai shaped strap-ons for the clenched fist that had been deeply filling her backdoor as she screamed his name as he penetrated her as deeply as he could on the next stroke.

As he slid deep in the first stroke between her thighs, he leaned forward and met her searching lips in a deeply satisfying kiss before he moved to the side of her throat and sank his fangs into the artery beneath his lips.

As the blood began to flow, she gasped and first went rigid, then relaxed into the feeding, rocking with the growing urgency of the tempo his hips were driving hers in. And she knew that he would eventually remember that the gemstone dildos were down here too, and use at least one on her while they were down here this time.

This was what she had needed, Joanna knew as he continued to thrust deep, slowly taking back some of the blood she had taken before, and she knew that it was helping his orgasm too, as she was lost in the sensations of the orgasm he was giving her, and she felt her eyes closing in ecstasy as she gave herself to what she was feeling.

And as they both came down from those orgasms, Devon slipped from the bed and over to the sheltered niche in the wall beside the bed. Joanna slowly forced her eyes open a few seconds later to find him returning to the bed with something long and green in his hands as he removed the stoyrai strap-on he had been using, and buckled on the lifestone drake strap-on. He paused for a few seconds to lube the tip with the special suspension of jellied ice that they preferred to use for the gemstone strap-ons, knowing that her own body would assist in the spreading of the lube as he stroked the massive piece between her thighs.

Then Devon reclaimed his place between her thighs with a wicked grin as he gently inserted the tip between her labia and began to slide it into her, then retreated, then slid forward more and more deeply with each stroke to her moans of delight as she rocked with the pleasure of feeling the giant cock he was using inside her everywhere in her vagina.

And soon, her enjoyment was taking her thoughts into a realm she could only reach with orgasm as it roared through her veins and muscles like liquid thunder, rocking her to her core.

When she had recovered a bit, she was astounded to find herself untied, and she took advantage of her freedom to go to the niche and fetch one of the other special strap-on dongs that was kept there, this time, the dreamseed colored stonecloud one that had been carved in the shape of a long forearm with a clenched fist where the hand would be and a pair of long, slightly curved fingers on the end where it would normally rest against the pubis, and she slid the fingers slowly deep into her vagina as she buckled the straps around her own hips as he bent over the edge of the bed and raised his fanny for her entry when she had the head lubed to her satisfaction.

And as she slid the well lubed dong slowly into him, she felt something strong and thick filling her ass, and Joanna knew that the Passionvine had woken up enough to rejoin the action, thrusting in counterpoint to her own thrusts in Devon’s ass. And Joanna could feel her own orgasm building again from the intense stimulation. Especially when a second tendril of the Passionvine slipped between her labia and filled her vagina in one slow motion.

They had been bringing each other deep joy with the stone shafts and the contribution of the Pleasurevine for more than an hour when she felt the bed shift under them as another body appeared in the locked playroom, and her eyes flew open to see her most recent lover, Erica joining them on the bed. Erica was tall, willowy and Fae by birth, with very long, clever fingers and Gifted with the ability to teleport at will, but she wasn’t alone when she arrived.

She had brought Xaphael with her, and as soon as she could see what was going on, she leaned over and began sucking on Joanna’s nipples and pulling her hair gently, while Xaph got himself lubed up and gently mounted Erica from behind, leaning over and kissing Devon where their lips met. And the thick vines continued to service Devon, Joanna and Xaphael; the thinner ones were all for Erica to enjoy that afternoon.

The action between the four of them heated up as they brought each other deep joy repeatedly over the next couple hours. And even swapping partners didn’t break the mood between them; each was very pleased with the reason for their growing sense of tiredness as they got dressed to head back to the party after Erica had finished taking two of Joanna’s fingers of one hand up her ass and the other fist all the way inside her vagina, and doing Joanna anally in return with the stonecloud dong as Devon used the lifestone dong on Xaph after Joanna had blown Devon and Xaphael both quite thoroughly.

And then Vlad had appeared in the playroom with them, and things had gone predictably from there, with all of them sharing deep joy from and with him, especially his wife, who had been very worried about him, though she wouldn’t tell him that in so many words.

He knew she had been, though, and had spent most of his time in their embraces bringing her deeper joy than he had ever done, knowing that somehow, it was more comforting to her now than it had been before this day to be in his arms again.

And he knew too that he would have to explain it to her as best he could when they were done down here. But he wasn’t sure when that would be, either.

And of course, he had presented her with the first of her birthday gifts; a large bloodstone crystal, carved into a thick bodied, wide tipped dildo. She had expressed her appreciation immediately by spreading her legs for his deep penetration with it, to better enjoy the orgasm that the newest addition to their gemstone collection produced for her.

When they were ready to leave the playroom at last-- several hours later, it seemed to Joanna, though it couldn’t have been more than an hour of time that had passed-- she knew that she should make a brief detour to the ‘wine cellar’ but she needed to be sure they were able to get back upstairs okay, so Joanna went with them, knowing she could get to the wine cellar in a bit.

It crossed her mind to wonder then if Michael hadn’t been accessing his Gift to make sure she didn’t miss any of the party, but still got as much pleasure as she could from her encounters that day. And she knew she would have to find out somehow, though now certainly wasn’t the time to ask him about it.

As they were coming out into the foyer from belowstairs, they encountered Joanna and Amelia’s baby sister, Amanda and another young woman with long, honey quodoa colored hair in the foyer, and Amelia said from the door, “J, Mani just got here, and she was wondering if you know who all is here, and where the bulk of the people are at the minute.”

Erica, Devon and Xaph excused themselves—though Vlad remained beside her-- and Joanna knew that they were likely to be headed for the ballroom, so she smiled and said, “I’ll be along in a minute or two, guys, but... Erica?” she added questioningly as the young Fae woman turned to glance over her shoulder at Joanna where she stood by the door with her sister, Joanna’s aristocratically handsome husband, as well as Joanna and Amelia’s equally attractive best friend.

“Yeah, babe?,” Erica asked questioningly as she paused between one step and the next, setting her foot down on the floor gently as she paused.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of your anal virginity, my love. I hope you understand that I will never willingly betray the tender trust you showed me today. But I hope too that we will have many more times like today, when you surprise me in the playroom.

That was very nice, but maybe you will be willing to tie me up next time?◊ Joanna said gently in her mind, knowing that Erica was still not as comfortable with group sexual activities—or even mental contact, particularly-- as Joanna was, but grateful that she was at least willing to try new experiences sexually, and allow Joanna to speak to her in her thoughts.

But at the same time, Joanna knew that she was even more grateful that Vlad was there again and safe, as Erica smiled at her in reply.

But at the same time, Joanna knew that it would be better for both herself and Erica when Erica was finally comfortable enough to allow Joanna to taste her blood during loveplay. That hadn’t happened as yet, but Joanna was sure that it wasn’t going to be too much longer before Erica asked her to share that bliss with her too, as Erica continued to watch her with a slow nod.

“Save me a dance, my love?” Joanna said gently as Erica nodded and turned in a swirl of flirty skirt and long silver ringlets as she hurried after the others. “I will, sweetie.” Erica replied over her shoulder as she hurried in the direction they had gone.

And Joanna wasn’t completely sure which question Erica had answered. Then, the young woman stopped and hurried back to Joanna, grabbing her and kissing her soundly, then hurrying the way the others had gone once more when Joanna finally allowed the liplock to break between them. And Vlad smiled, knowing how much Joanna had enjoyed the abrupt kiss by the deep sigh she released when Erica was gone.

Joanna knew that Erica hadn’t been in the house often enough to be sure of her sense of direction yet, and relying on those who knew their way around was still something that Erica had to do to be sure of getting to where she was heading, unless she was simply teleporting to her goal like she had earlier to get through the locked door of the playroom to where Joanna was.

And Amelia smiled at Joanna, fully aware of what Joanna had been doing downstairs, and glad that Joanna had been able to relax and have a little fun. But at the same time, Amelia knew that she was going to want to spend some time wrapped around Joanna too, once door duty was done for right now, which shouldn’t be too much longer, Amelia knew. Joanna nodded and smiled, knowing that she wanted to be in the playroom with Amelia too.

She winked at Amelia, then said softly, “Sorry to have left you with door duty for so long, baby...” as she slipped over to her sister and wrapped an arm companionably around her waist, then leaned in and kissed Amelia’s earlobe gently as Amelia shivered lightly at the contact.

And Joanna knew that she wanted to share the gemstone dongs with her sister and their other lovers too tonight, if there was time before everyone fell asleep. But she also knew that Amelia would want to spend some time with Vlad as much as she still did, so she hoped that he would be able to keep his promise this time and remain at the house with her for the rest of the night at least.

Amelia shook her head and replied, “It’s okay, sweetheart. It’s your party after all; you’re allowed to have fun, you know, with whoever you want, so long as they want you too. Did you enjoy your time down there? Do I really need to ask who all went down with you this time? I mean, I know that Devon was there, and Xaph, and Erica... ” Amelia said, her tone still teasing.

“But... it’s your party too, isn’t it?” Joanna asked teasingly as Amelia made a face at her, and Vlad glanced at Raven with a half-smile. Raven replied with a similar expression, and nodded to direct Vlad’s attention back to his wife as Amelia and Joanna snuggled briefly and Joanna sighed softly in contentment.

And Vlad smiled indulgently at the peaceful, yet extremely satisfied expression on Joanna’s face as she did, knowing that she had indeed enjoyed her time with her lovers downstairs, though he knew too that she still wanted more, much, much more.

In fact, he could almost hear the thoughts passing from her mind to her sister’s...

Yeah... Devon and Xaph... they tied me up again, and Erica was there, and she was finally able to dilate enough for me to be able to get two fingers all the way into her ass... and they used the special ones on me too... it was great with the stones so cold like that. And then Vlad came back, showing up while we were down there too. Oh, that’s right, Wait ’til you get to see what he brought me this time!!◊ Joanna thought excitedly, showing her sister in mental images what her present from Vlad and her Father had been, before continuing in Amelia’s thoughts as Amelia gasped softly.

Soon, I will be able to fist Erica in both orifices, and that will be so fun, for both of us...!◊ Joanna said in Amelia’s thoughts, and Amelia smiled gently at the expression of extreme satisfaction on Joanna’s face.

“I’m glad for you, lover.” Amelia said softly, for Joanna’s ears alone, though she knew that Vlad had likely heard her as well. And at the same time, Amelia could feel herself relaxing; she knew that Joanna was always a bit tense and withdrawn while her husband had to be away, and now her sister had a chance to relax a little, and that would do nothing but good for Joanna.

“I love you, sis...” Joanna whispered, then leaned in and whispered into her sister’s ear, “but I do hope you will join us in the playroom later if you aren’t too tired...” as she kissed Amelia on the earlobe again, and Amelia shivered with delight as Joanna kissed her throat too before turning back to Amanda. ◊Oh, that reminds me, Alyx is here too, Amelia, and she said she would be interested in coming downstairs to play with us for a while when her current lover is ready for the exposure.◊

Oh? Really? That sounds like it could be fun.◊ Amelia replied in her sister’s thoughts, on a very tight line. And Joanna knew that Amelia was just as eager for an opportunity to spend some time with Vlad’s daughter Alyxandyra, as Joanna was to see his son, Jeremy again. Of course, if Jeremy had brought his brother Iason along, that would be even better, as far as Joanna was concerned. But the fact remained that Amelia felt very close to Alyx and her young Risian girlfriend, even though Amelia wasn’t certain how to explain it.

And that was also taking into account the fact that this party was almost the first time they had gotten to spend any serious amount of time together.

Do you think we could entice Alyx to come and play by herself? I know that Petrova may not really be ready for more than one or two at a time—if that many-- but she has said that she wouldn’t mind if Alyx had fun at the party. And more importantly, she has said that Alyx should spend some time with us, sis. I wonder if that means that the dreams about the club actually mean something...◊ Amelia said, sounding thoughtful.

It wasn’t often that Amelia had dreams about a past life to she remembered clearly enough to relate to Joanna or any of the others. And she was sure that the club she had been dreaming about in Mergoin was one of her lifetimes, though she insisted that Joanna had been there too. But Amelia knew she wasn’t completely sure who Joanna had been, yet, even though she had a theory as to who she might have been.

But proving it might prove to be difficult for her, Amelia knew. It hadn’t occurred to her yet to ask Vlad; after all, he knew who Joanna had been in almost every lifetime he had patiently waited through for her to be ready to accept the Bond with him.

I would have no way of knowing, my love. But I would think that if you asked her, she would be able to tell you if she would be willing.◊ Joanna said in Amelia’s thoughts, glancing over at her sister, then returning to watching the next group of guests making their way up the walk to the stone steps that led to the front door.

And, too, Amelia was sure that she had found out who she had been in that lifetime, a young Risian woman named Tanya Ivanovna, and she suspected that she had found out who Joanna had been too, if her theory was correct. Joanna had been the woman who had owned the bar, and her name had been Lisle, Lisle Obermeyer.

But at the same time, she wasn’t sure that Raven had been there this time, or if he had, she hadn’t found him yet. Then it occurred to her that the stage manager had resembled him, and she wondered if he had indeed been there, though she knew there was almost no way of finding out for certain.

Amelia hadn’t had the time to ask Vlad about it for certain, though she knew she should find the time to do so. After all, she knew that he might be the only one who could confirm or deny her theory, she thought, glancing over Joanna’s shoulder at him where he stood by the door, greeting another guest.

However, she didn’t know that both Alyx and Vlad had been in the club she was dreaming about, and would be able to answer all her questions for her, once they got over their surprise at being asked about it in the first place. And she knew that right now might not be the ideal time to ask him about it; he looked like he was a bit distracted about something that might be more important.

But too there was a still greater surprise awaiting her; Petrova was the granddaughter of the woman Amelia had been in that life. Amelia didn’t know that as yet, but she would find out soon.

And though Petrova was born in Svetlania, she looked almost exactly like Amelia had at that age, except that Amelia’s hair had darkened over the years to a deep blue black, like Raven’s, and Petrova’s was dreamseed brown. Even Jayne had commented on it to both Joanna and Richard.

Though, since Joanna hadn’t gotten to spend much time with her as yet—Petrova was still convalescing after a brutal vampire attack that had happened almost a year before. But she wouldn’t allow Jayne to heal her quickly, for some reason known only to Petrova. And because of that, Joanna hadn’t really noticed the resemblance as yet, but when she did, her reaction would be stronger than it might otherwise have been.

“Well,” Joanna said as she turned to face Amanda again, “So far as I know right now, there are lots of people in the ballroom, and several groups in the Maze, as well as the group at the pool, or the people in the garden having early dinner, or maybe its late luncheon, I don’t really know... but there are all kinds of other things to do around here today too, Mani.

By the way, I’m glad you got here, sis. I had been wondering when you would be able to make it home again.” Joanna added as she hugged Amanda in greeting. “So, who is your lovely friend, sis?” as Joanna looked at the young woman appreciatively a few seconds later.

“Oh... yeah, you’re right.” Amanda said, looking flustered for a few seconds, for some reason. And Joanna realized that Amanda seemed more than a little uncomfortable. After a few seconds more, Joanna wondered if perhaps Amanda was in love, but she knew better than to tease Amanda about it right now as Amanda leaned into Joanna’s embrace.

“Joanna, this is my new friend, Amber. I thought she might like to meet you, so here we are...” Amanda said, still seeming almost... nervous, like she expected to be teased for having a new friend. And Joanna knew that Amanda felt that something was very special about this young woman.

Studying the young woman with her little sister from the corner of her eye as Joanna hugged Amanda for a few more seconds. And in that instant, she knew that there was indeed something special about this young woman whom her sister had brought home to meet the rest of the family. But she wasn’t sure what it was, so Joanna knew that Amber would bear watching, to see how she interacted with the rest of the family.

“Hello, Amber. It’s nice to meet you.” Joanna said, extending her hand and shaking the younger woman’s hand with a smile as Joanna had released Amanda. She wondered how she would go about getting to know this young friend of Amanda’s better, but she knew too that she should let Amanda get to know her first.

“Hello. It’s nice to finally get to meet you. Amanda has told me so much about you that I almost feel that I know you well already. Oh, that’s right, this is for you.” she said as she handed Joanna a small wrapped package with an embarrassed smile.

You know, my love, I do believe our little Amanda may be in love...◊ Vlad thought as he stepped up and greeted Amber as well, gently clasping the hand she had offered, and lightly kissing her knuckles as she chuckled uncertainly and Joanna smiled.

It sure begins to look that way, meum defensor. But perhaps we should let Amanda set the pace of the conversation.◊ Joanna replied in the same manner, as Vlad nodded.

“Thank you, my dear. You didn’t need to bring me anything to be welcome here. But I will admit that I’m glad you did.” Joanna said as she accepted the small gift. “Please, feel free to enjoy yourself in any way you wish while you are here.” she added with unintentional emphasis on any. And both Vlad and Amelia smiled at the slip, though they wouldn’t have told Joanna that they had seen one of her ‘tells’.

“There are plenty of things to do around here, as I was telling Mani a few seconds ago; dancing in the ballroom, all kinds of delicious foods, swimming in the pool or in the river, as well as exploring the garden, or finding your way through the Maze on the grounds; they are all here for your pleasure, as my guest.” Joanna said grandly as she gestured around the house, and implying exploring the sweep of the grounds themselves with the gesture.

“But it is traditional to bring someone a gift in remembrance of their birthday.” Amber replied, then she turned to Amanda and said softly, “And I think going to the ballroom sounds like a wonderful idea, Mani, sweetie.” Amber said, her voice low pitched and throaty as she turned to Amanda and took her hand gently, and shaking it a little to get her attention, obviously hoping that Mani would lead the way to the ballroom.

Then she leaned over and kissed Amanda on the lips, smiling around the kiss as Amanda seemed to melt into the kiss with a sigh as her arms slowly went around Amber’s back, and slide up to tangle in her hair as they slipped apart once more, both of them breathing hard. And Joanna, Raven and Amelia all smiled, knowing how kisses made them feel, and Joanna sighed as she felt Vlad’s arms wrapping around her in a gentle embrace in response to her smile.

So?◊ Amelia asked Joanna on a tight thought line as the younger girls walked down the corridor toward the ballroom and the music they could hear from the door where Amelia, Joanna and Raven stood. ◊Whaddaya think?◊ Amelia added curiously, suddenly antsy to know what her sister thought of their baby sister’s new lover.

As she stood by the door, watching the traffic arriving for the party, Joanna absently unwrapped the small box she had just been given as she considered her answer to Amelia’s question, and was surprised to find an elaborate box within the wrappings with very fine lines that turned out to be Nilnean writing over the entire chest within the delicate cloth wrappings.

She knew that the key to opening the container was in the translation of the writing, so she quickly read what was written there, almost without being aware that that was what she was doing. It only occurred to her a few seconds later that she shouldn’t have been able to do that; she didn’t remember having learned how to read the hieroglyphic writing; it was one of the many things that she had always been able to do, like speaking in Ladten.

Figuring out how to get it open a few seconds later, she lifted the lid with the tips of two fingers and gasped at the sight of the exquisite necklace she had found within, on the bed of velvety soft cloth.

It looked Nilnean in origin, with the traditional tailed eye and jeweled serpent flanked by the staves in the center, but there was something different about this one, in that the eye symbol was on a necklace worn by a delicate looking bronze fellina in a seated position.

However, that wasn’t all the chest contained; an exquisite pair of sacred winged scarab earrings in deep red coral, creamy red carnelian and deep blue lapis, as well as a narrow aurantium arm band with a delicately engraved dual cartouche that spelled out a pair of names that abruptly looked very familiar to Joanna, though she didn’t say anything about it just then.

“About her? Or about her gifts?” Joanna asked quietly, showing the contents of the small chest to her companions. “This is... amazing.” Joanna added, her voice trailing away into silence as she contemplated the young woman who had so suddenly dropped into their lives.

“They’re beautiful...” Amelia said softly, and both Vlad and Raven nodded as they studied the pieces in the small chest in Joanna’s hand. Then Amelia saw the arm band with the dual cartouche on it and gasped, “I know that name!,” her tone shocked. “I heard that name in the Dream!” she added, as though she hadn’t been aware of speaking aloud, and Raven and Joanna exchanged a look that spoke volumes.

Raven, Vlad and Joanna all looked at her at the same time, and Joanna said, “Then, please, enlighten us, sis.”, knowing that something important had just happened, though she wasn’t sure exactly what it had been as yet.

“The writing in the cartouche reads, ‘Akila Shen-medjhet, daughter of Wadjhet Nefer-hotep’. But it looks like there is more engraving on the inside of the armband, sis...” Then Amelia shook her head, and said, “I’ll have to work on translating it further for you later, my eyes are beginning to cross from looking at such tiny letters.”

She closed her eyes for a few seconds, then asked Joanna in her thoughts, ◊So, what do you think of Amanda’s new friend, sis?◊

I think she’s beautiful. I would certainly like to spend some quality time in her pants...though I certainly wouldn’t deny sister Amanda the opportunity to enjoy all that she has to offer...◊ Joanna said thoughtfully, though she knew that she didn’t dare tell Amelia what she had seen when the name Akila had been mentioned.

A flash of memory of a dream about a gently rocking barque and being forced to dance, as well as a name—Nefer-chi Hehet—that she was sure had been the name of a child who had died, flew through her thoughts, and disappeared into the mental mists of time once more, but Joanna was sure that there was more to it than that. However, Joanna also knew that now was not the time to begin the discussion that would surely result from her asking about the name Amelia had spoken. Though she knew that she was going to have to do it soon, if only to satisfy her own curiosity about what she thought she recalled.

Then Joanna added aloud, “I wonder which definition of the word ‘dance’ she favors.” and she chuckled with a wicked half grin as Amelia swatted her on the shoulder, then dragged her into a similarly deep kiss that had Joanna gasping for breath and melting into it too as they fell heavily against the doorframe and continued to kiss.

“Me too.” Raven said on the end of a soft sigh of longing a few seconds later as his head turned to stare the direction Amber had departed in. “She reminds me of the best elements of both of you when we were younger.”, he added softly as both Joanna and Amelia nodded in agreement after breaking the liplock that had held them suspended for several seconds, then they turned the same liplock on him.

He too stumbled back against the frame of the door that was behind him as they swarmed him, and the kiss they were sharing deepened for a few more seconds before Joanna surrendered her place at his lips to move to one side of his throat, and she settled her lips against his skin there, sighing with longing herself.

But she only kissed his skin firmly with a soft sigh of regret, knowing that the doorway wasn’t the right place to grab a quick feeding, though she knew she would have to soon, and Raven was the logical choice for a donor this time.

“I too wonder which definition of that term she favors, but I know that Amanda has the prior claim on her time.” Vlad said softly, and Amelia and Raven both sighed softly in reluctant agreement, though they both knew he was right.

And as Joanna released Raven, she sighed again, then giggled as Vlad scooped her into his arms and kissed her throat, then they all heard her gasp of surprise as his fangs first touched, then penetrated the skin of her throat and the artery beneath swiftly, with one firm thrust.

And Joanna was shocked to find herself abruptly losing consciousness in his arms for the first time in more than thirty years as he drank for a few swallows against the sudden pounding of her hearts as her vision faded through gray to black and she gasped, “Vlad...!” just before she went limp in his arms.

Amelia shook her head as Vlad sealed the wounds he had made, and he said, “Good. Now maybe she will rest for a while. At least, I hope it is long enough for me to get her down to the ‘wine cellar’ for a few minutes.” as he rolled Joanna’s limp body more completely into his arms and quickly turned to cross the foyer toward the door that led into the UnderManse.

Raven watched them, his thoughts in a fog, as he wondered if he should go with them, and Amelia said, “If you do decide to go with them, you’d better hurry. Wish I could join you, but right now, I have to make sure there is someone here to greet the guests as they arrive. Have fun for me, okay?” as she noted the longing expression in his eyes.

And with her suggestion, he shook his head sharply once, as though shaking off an unpleasant thought, and hurried after Vlad as he carried Joanna into the darkness of the UnderManse.

And as the door closed behind them once more, she heard Raven’s reply in her thoughts, ◊Of course, ’Lia. Just promise me that you will be safe all by yourself up there. And too that you will try to not be too bored while you are by yourself.◊

Will do, lover. Help him take care of her, and I’ll be down there as soon as I can get someone to take over door duty for me.◊ Amelia added in his thoughts as he hurried after Vlad and Joanna.

Raven knew they weren’t initially heading for the playroom, but they would likely end up there anyway, so as soon as they reached the branching corridor that led to the heavy strongbark wood door that protected the playroom, he headed toward the sheltering darkness of the playroom at first, then realized that Vlad might need him in the wine cellar-- to help revive Joanna with fresh blood from his veins.

After all, she had been only seconds away from feeding from him upstairs anyway, Raven thought. She should have taken from him a few minutes ago, Raven thought firmly. If she had, Joanna might not have fainted when Vlad had sipped from her veins as they were between groups of arriving guests at the door.

Besides, it was one of his jobs as one of her fledglings to feed her when she needed it, Raven thought, determined to help Joanna as he finally caught up with Vlad at the door to the wine cellar.

At the same time, Vlad had known that he was on his way the entire time and was waiting for Raven to arrive before opening the door for him as he stood beside the door. As Raven approached at last, Vlad checked Joanna’s breathing once more, relieved that she was still breathing, though she was still unconscious in his arms as Vlad brought her face close to his and kissed her tenderly.

“Daniel...” Vlad said softly as they passed through the door and into the darkness beyond. “Be careful in here until I can get the lights on for you,” he added as Raven heard him setting Joanna down on the couch that lined one wall of the room.

Then Raven heard the switch click, and the lights came up in the room once more before Raven could remind Uncle Vlad that his night vision was probably better than the elder’s was.

Revealed by the flare of light was a small room with an overstuffed seeming Triumphan era fainting couch in deep, dark crimson brocaded cloth with copper and mythrylay trim with carved darksweet wood legs, arm supports and backrest, where Vlad had laid Joanna’s still form.

“Oh, Joanna...” Raven sighed, still more than half buried in the vision that had been tangled in his thoughts like a bramblevine since Vlad’s return. Going to her, he dropped to his knees beside her head where it lay against the bolster on the low end of the couch, and he could see that she was beginning to revive finally as she began to shift and sigh softly.

Raven laid his throat against her mouth, knowing that eventually the scent of the blood in his veins would revive her enough to realize that she needed to feed, and he was relieved to feel her fangs sliding through his skin and into the artery beneath once again a few seconds later.

And as she did, the vision that had held him nearly prisoner in his own mind finally released him almost audibly, and he suddenly relaxed as her arms came up to clasp his body to her, crumpling to one hip as she held him close. Fighting to remain conscious himself as she slipped her fangs free and sealed the wounds she had been feeding from, he breathed deeply through his nose, sighing softly when she caressed him gently as she sat up with him in her arms.

Shaking off her post feeding lethargy as she gently laid him down on the couch she had so recently occupied, Raven slid into unconsciousness with a sigh that might have held a name, “Lisle...”, and Joanna and Vlad both stared at him in shock for a few seconds before Joanna could lock eyes with Vlad, even as her vision went smoky and dim.

Vlad spoke hesitantly, saying, “Joanna...?” But she didn’t hear him; she had been whisked away into the vision that she had caught flashes of as she had fed from Raven’s veins before she could do anything about it.

With Raven’s sighed word, the vision erupted over Joanna’s mind in its entirety, and she found herself swirled deep into a sight that she thought had only been a dream; the inside of a smoky club in Mergoin.

She stood facing the stage where a young woman sang a song that sounded very familiar to Joanna, though at the minute, she couldn’t quite recall where she had heard it most recently. She had a feeling that there was something important for her to see here, but she didn’t know what it could be.

Looking around, she saw men in uniforms that looked familiar, and then she realized that she knew the men as well as the type of uniforms they were; they were soldiers in Histrelynder’s Army of the People.

There were more than a dozen of them at tables dotted all around the main floor, and she knew that they were only there to drink and relax that night, but other nights there had been trouble from many of these same men as the singer continued to croon into her microphone, the music a soothing counterpoint to Joanna’s racing thoughts.

Then she realized that she knew the language the singer was performing in; Nachtmanzer, and she abruptly recognized the song as well; it was one that she sang often when she was younger, titled Longings.

It was all about how lonely she was for her lost love, who she hoped would return to her before her hearts were stolen away by another. But he didn’t come back until it was almost too late to do anything about the troubles besetting her, though they triumphed over those who were causing trouble for them by the end of the song.

That meant that the club had to be Club Boots, in Mergoin, Joanna thought as she stared around at the decorations of the club. They looked familiar, somehow, and she tried to place where she might have seen them, though she knew that she stood in a shadowed corner of the balcony where she could see much of the rest of the club.

Then, she saw someone that she recognized, and she almost called out, “Amelia!!” in an attempt to get her attention, restraining herself at the last instant as the woman slipped through the crowds on the dancefloor, and approached a young woman standing to the left of the stage, watching the activity on the dancefloor. Joanna wondered how Amelia had gotten here too, then she realized that it couldn’t be Amelia; the young woman’s hair wasn’t blue-black, it was dreamseed brown instead.

And Joanna realized that the young woman she approached must be the infrequently mentioned Lisle as the warm reds of the flickering filtered footlights washed over her face and showed her a young woman who looked like her, only her hair was shorter and the color of freshly ground dreamseeds.

Joanna studied the way Lisle stood watching the shifting crowds, and she realized that the young woman was terrified by something-- though Joanna couldn’t tell what it could be-- as the other young woman who looked like Amelia wrapped herself around Lisle in a comforting gesture for a few seconds before leading her away into the shadows to the left of the stage; Joanna somehow knew that the office of the club was in that direction.

Then she realized that she was shaking, inside where there was nothing she could do to stop it, as it occurred to her again that she had seen this place before—just recently, in fact-- but she thought she recalled something bad happening to her there, and she wished she could be sure that either Amelia or Vlad was working to break this vision.

She thought she remembered something about her dying, but she wasn’t sure that she wanted to know in that instant, though too, she was somehow sure that the would find out sooner than she had planned to if she remained here much longer.

It was only a few seconds later that she realized that she wasn’t alone in the shadowy corner she had been standing in to observe the doings in the club for several seconds. There was a figure not far from where she stood, but they didn’t seem to be watching her; their attention was focused out into the action on the dancefloor of the club below them.

Then the being she had noticed turned toward her-- and she had time to notice that the face looked as though it had been terribly burned sometime long ago—as the person said, “You are next, Joanna. You will fall to me, for there are no more protections for you to hide behind.” She gasped, as he began to move toward her, and her vision went dark once again, as the being’s hands began to rise, as though to grab her by the throat.

The next thing she knew, Joanna had blinked and when she opened her eyes again, she was in Vlad’s arms once more, her fangs buried in his flesh, and his blood sliding down her throat. She swallowed once more, and sealed the wounds gently, wondering how much work it had been for him to break the vision for her.

Vlad sighed, “Thank Lilitia that you have returned to me, my love.” as he held her close for several minutes, simply enjoying the fact of her presence before they had to return to the party upstairs.

Vlad didn’t mention that he was even more grateful that she hadn’t seen the way she had died in the life that had been hers in Mergoin, than he was for her safe return. And he kept equally silent on the fact that his own memory provided the images that he didn’t want to see again; remorseless images of his Lisle’s twisted body at the bottom of the staircase, her neck and back broken in so many places that he couldn’t begin to count the shards of bone poking through her skin.

And, of course, they discussed the vision until Raven had recovered; then the three of them discussed it still further before they headed back upstairs. And Vlad knew then that his most stringent security measure thus far established wouldn’t be enough to protect her; the Deformed had targeted her, and the only one of their enemies that was worse than the Deformed was Iollio. And Vlad knew that he was going to have to upgrade every security measure that he had brought online, even as recently as today. And then it occurred to him to reinforce the one he had set in place during Winter Coronation all those years ago with Gwenná’s help.

At least the Deformed only wanted to kill her, Vlad thought. That was something they could recover from; though it would take time. Iollio—on the other hand-- wanted to sever their Mating Bond, and take her for himself for eternity, and Vlad and Joanna both knew there was no recovery from that. Then he realized that it wasn’t Joanna who was the Deformed’s true target; it was Amelia, and Joanna was only in the path of the destruction. But losing her sister could be fatal to Joanna as well, so Vlad knew that losing Amelia wasn’t an option, even if she hadn’t been related to him directly.

But at the same time, the three of them knew that giving her to the Deformed—or Iollio, for that matter-- wasn’t an option either. They would simply have to find a way to prevent either of them from getting to their family, Vlad knew, though he knew that it was easier said than done.

It hadn’t been anything like what Raven had been expecting when he had followed Vlad and Joanna downstairs almost two hours before, and in many ways, he was glad that Amelia hadn’t been able to get down to where they were, though he did wonder what had happened that had kept her from joining them.

But what he didn’t know was that she was pleasantly occupied with the passionvine and Alyx in the playroom, and didn’t quite realize that there had been a problem. Soon though, Amelia knew that she was going to have to return to the party, and she realized abruptly that she was surprised to find that she had so completely forgotten that Joanna might need her.

She was with Vlad and Raven, Amelia thought as she and Alyx enjoyed each other. If she had needed help... if any of them had needed help, they would have hollered for me, I would have thought. I sure hope everything went well... but it must have... I haven’t heard anything from them...! And as that thought crossed her mind, Alyx frowned and whispered, “What is it, Amelia? What’s wrong, lover?”

“Nothin’, sweetheart. Or at least... I don’t think it was anything..” Amelia replied as she leaned into Alyx’s embrace for another kiss, sighing in pleasure when Alyx’s lips settled to the side of her throat and she allowed her fangs to slide through Amelia’s skin, penetrating to the vein beneath as Amelia felt her orgasm begin to build again.

And, as she, Vlad and Raven arrived at the door once more, nearly two and a half hours later after they had headed downstairs toward the ‘wine cellar’, Joanna decided that now was a good time to take a turn on door duty; after all, Harrold was looking tired already.

But she knew after several more groups of guests had arrived and had been duly greeted, that she couldn’t stay there forever, and many were waiting for her to return to the dancing in the ballroom.

It looked like most of the guests who were going to come that afternoon were likely to be already there. So she and Vlad left the door in the charge of Harrold the doorman in case someone else showed up, and headed toward the dining room for a few seconds to grab a small plate of whatever was available for themselves, as well as a glass of punch each.

There were many of the local vampyres attending the party that night, out of respect for the Queen’s birthday, and of course, there were flutes of fresh blood circulating on aurantium trays, though the punch bowls were emptying at almost the same rate as the flutes were being consumed.

After a moment to reach toward Amelia’s thoughts for a few seconds to let her know what was happening a few minutes later, Joanna trailed slowly after the rest of the group that was headed past the dining room, and into the ballroom where all was light, music and gaiety, though her face was lit by a singularly beautiful smile as she did.

Several times after their group had returned to the ballroom that early evening, Joanna danced with several of the others who were there as well—Erica, Amanda and Amber did too-- but unless the person Joanna was dancing with were one of her lovers, they usually couldn’t hold Joanna’s attention for more than one or two dances, save for Erica, and one extremely memorable dance with Amber.

Then Amanda asked Joanna for a dance, and though she was surprised, Joanna accepted, knowing that she needed to talk to her little sister in privacy. But even she wasn’t expecting the topic Amanda wanted to bring up.

“Joanna,” Amanda whispered as they snuggled up for the beginning figure of the dance, “I need your advice, sis.” And Joanna could tell that she was upset about something, though she covered it well when someone that wasn’t family was looking.

“With what, sweetie?” Joanna asked, twirling Amanda around in one of the figures of the dance they were sharing, and Amanda sighed.

“I’m sure you saw how beautiful Amber is...” Amanda said softly, then she added, “I think I’m in love... but how do I tell her how I feel?” she asked, sounding miserable as she made eye contact with Joanna for a few seconds, then looked down and away, trying to hide the worry in her eyes, heartsick at the thought of being rejected by someone she wanted so badly.

The look almost broke Joanna’s hearts, and she realized that it was exactly how she had looked when she had though that Vlad was dead a few years back. And probably how she had looked the day he had had to tell her that he had to go away on one of his many missions for Lilitia before they had closed the Bond that had been between them, Joanna thought. And Joanna was abruptly holding back tears herself, though she could feel Vlad’s mind wrapping hers in a comforting embrace, and that helped steady her again.

“Oh, sweetheart. She knows,” Joanna whispered gently to her sister, holding Amanda closer than the dance required for a few seconds. Swallowing hard, Joanna added, “You can’t have missed how she kissed you when you were at the door, can you?” Joanna asked softly as she held her sister close in the dance as the music swirled around them once more.

“I know, but I... every time I’m with her, I want to just wrap myself around her, like Amelia is with you and Raven, and not have to share her with anyone, even though I know I need to let her make up her own mind whether or not she wants to be with me that way.” Amanda said, sounding miserable and so lost.

“I mean... I guess I’m spoiled from having you and Amelia as examples of how a relationship is supposed to go...” she added forlornly as she tried to smile at Joanna and failed.

“Oh, sweetie, you’ve really got it bad, don’t you?” Joanna

asked sympathetically as she danced with her adopted little sister, though they had been family for so long that Amanda thought of Joanna as her sister by blood. And Joanna couldn’t help but remember all the times in the playroom, sharing joy with both of her sisters, and she knew that if Amber wasn’t interested, she was missing out on something truly wonderful with Amanda.

“Yeah, I guess so. But what do I do about it?” Amanda asked, studying Joanna as they left the dancefloor after the song came to an end and they strolled toward the tables at the edges of the room.

And Joanna knew that this was a tickly issue that was likely to need a lot work to get it straight between them. But at the same time, she knew they needed to involve Amber in the discussions, or what Amanda hoped for would never happen.

“Sweetie, all I can recommend is to talk to the girl about it. I’m sure that she will listen to you, and answer your questions. Especially if you do it soon.” Joanna said, softly, gently kissing Amanda on the temple before gently turning her around and nudging her toward where Amber was sitting. “Now, go to her and tell her how you feel, sweetheart.”

“Okay. But if she says no, I don’t know what I’ll do.” Amanda whispered for Joanna’s hearing alone.

“It’ll be okay, sis.” Joanna said encouragingly, and nudged Amanda again toward the tiny table where Amber was sitting with two flutes of bright red punch in front of her, one on either side of the candle that decorated the table.

If she says no, then come back to me and we will decide how to handle it from there, okay?◊ Joanna whispered in Amanda’s thoughts, knowing that her little sister had heard when Amanda glanced over her shoulder at Joanna and smiled sadly, before she nodded resolutely.

And Joanna headed back to where she had been sitting before she had gone downstairs with Devon, what seemed like days ago now, hoping that she would be allowed to sit for a minute herself to rest and collect her thoughts. This situation with Amanda required careful consideration, Joanna knew.

Vlad was waiting for her there, and she smiled, though she still wondered what was going on with Amelia, and knew that what was going on with Amanda could have very unpleasant repercussions, for all of them.

She didn’t want to have to open the ‘counseling office’ any more than she already had, but if it was needed, then she would, especially since it was for Amanda this time. And she knew too that finding out that her little sister was in love at last was at least part of what had her thoughts in such a swivet that afternoon.

And Joanna shook her head, knowing that she would do whatever her sisters needed to make sure they were happy. It was the least she could do for the family that had taken her in—and taken her to their hearts-- when she had been a hopelessly catatonic six year old, Joanna thought.

After all, Joanna was still willing to advise a very select clientele in these sorts of situations; mostly members of her family-- of one level or another. But at the same time, Joanna didn’t really want to have to talk about it too much for a while as she sorted out her thoughts on this development. But in a way, she did wish that Amanda had been able to hold off on having this crisis until after the party was over.

After all, Amber was in a unique position to cause Amanda a great deal of pain, but if the decision went in Amanda’s favor—which Joanna suspected that it would—then she stood to make Amanda very happy, which indirectly would spread the happiness through the whole family. But Joanna knew that at this delicate stage, loose talk could ruin all, so she wanted to keep her own counsel on this for now and let the situation develop as it would.

But fortunately, the minotaur elder was someone she could just sit and listen to as he chatted with her and Vlad on inconsequent subjects, without totally ignoring her other guests, so Joanna was glad he had come to her party today.

And she was glad that he was willing to simply sit and keep her company when she wanted to rest, like now. And Vlad could always be counted upon for uncritical company in almost any situation, as well as reliable advice on any number of topics.

However, there were also her duties as hostess as well to be dealt with, and frequently she was back on the receiving line at the door, greeting new arrivals as they came through the door. But she did find out that Amber had gently reached to brush a tear from Amanda’s face, and then they had kissed, so Joanna presumed that all was well between them when she didn’t hear anything further from Amanda about her previous unhappiness.

And so, she happened to be at the door greeting her incoming guests when a strikingly handsome young Centaur with ebony skin and a long bay tail arrived, cantering up to the door with a flourish as he swept his cloak from his shoulders, almost as though he expected a sudden breeze to sweep his hair back from his face in a dramatic gesture, which it did, to his surprise.

Amelia and Raven both happened to be there at the time—though they too had taken turns circulating through the party as well-- and both seemed really glad to see him, as though they hadn’t expected him to be there. But Joanna only had time to notice their reactions before someone else had reacted happily to the new arrival’s presence.

“Glad to see you could make it today after all, Ezekeiel!” boomed a genial male voice from across the foyer behind them. And Joanna glanced over her shoulder to see her Father striding over to the door to greet his friend, shaking his hand and saying, “Ezekeiel, allow me to present my daughter, Joanna, my adopted daughter Amelia, and their best friend, Daniel.” as Richard gestured to each in turn as the girls curtsied and Daniel bowed.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you at last, Ezekeiel. Father has told us so much about you that I feel as though we have known you for years.” Joanna said as she rose from her curtsey.

“The pleasure is entirely mine, my darling lady.” Ezekeiel replied, his voice pleasantly low pitched, with an interesting amount of emphasis placed on pleasure as he added, “And I’m afraid he has been a bit remiss in regards to telling me as much as he should have about the three of you.” Ezekeiel said as he smiled at Joanna, then glanced at her father, who shrugged and smiled innocently at him in reply, as if to say, “Who? Me? Never!” as he suited gesture to expression for an instant, feigning surprise before he smiled.

Joanna looked askance at Ezekeiel at his comment, sensing the byplay between him and her Father, and she raised an eyebrow at him in a subtle bid for more information. Smiling wider, he obliged her as he continued, “He has said frequently enough that both you and your sisters are beautiful, of course-- and I chalked that up to Fatherly pride-- but he fell utterly short of reality in his descriptions.

And as for you, Daniel... words fail me.” he said, initially addressing Joanna and Amelia, but bowing to Daniel once again, a funny, half bow that nevertheless managed to look elegant.

And Raven simply smiled, an equally elegant gesture that didn’t wrinkle the lines of his tuxedo; one of the first that Joanna had ever seen him in. And he wasn’t about to betray the fact that this wasn’t the first time he and Amelia had encountered this individual, though he knew that Ezekeiel was thinking that they cleaned up well.

“Richard,” Ezekeiel said reprovingly to Joanna’s Father with a playful frown, “You never mentioned how beautiful this young man is, and how perfectly matched he is to these gorgeous women. Vlad’s description was closer to the mark when he called Joanna ethereal in beauty.

Even though I chalked that comment up to him being understandably proud of the charming young woman he had convinced to become his wife...” Ezekeiel added, as he gently kissed Joanna’s hand, and she dimpled deeply, blushing as becomingly as any virgin in response to his praise, though she suspected that it had more to do with the fact that the praise had come from Vlad.

“I’m sure that I mentioned something about the fact that he was the image of the shaman who greeted our ancestors the day they arrived in Shadow Valley... and you would know that she and these two were perfectly matched with Vlad as well, if you had been able to come to the wedding.” Richard muttered thoughtfully, sounding mock confused, and Joanna snickered, knowing that her Father’s idea of humor was sometimes wickedly sharp. And she hoped that this young seeming man would understand that her Father was only playing with him. But she discovered in their next breath that she needn’t have worried.

“Oh, yes, now I remember,” Ezekeiel said musingly. “You did mention it, but it too falls utterly short of accuracy. I wonder if other things you’ve told me about them are as... skewed.” as he stroked the fuzz that decorated the edge of his chin thoughtfully as he studied Joanna and her Father. “And as for my not being at the wedding; you know why I had to decline the invitation, Richard.” Ezekeiel added quietly.

“You wicked, wicked lizard,” Joanna’s Father mock growled under his breath, as he slipped his arm around Ezekeiel’s broad shoulders, steering him through the door and into the house at last. “You and I need to have a little chat before you get too busy with the many different kinds of entertainment that are available here tonight, Z. On many different topics. Other than that nonsense about reapportionment in Rauschenberg, that is.

And afterward, maybe there will be enough time for you to dance with Joanna later. You really should have been here for the wedding, then you would have understood many things long before this, old friend.” Richard said as he was escorting Ezekeiel across the foyer toward the stairs that led to his office.

Joanna sighed deeply as they walked away, thinking, ◊Wow. I hope he’s planning to stick around for the orgy! I have a feeling that I would love to have that cock up my ass!◊ as she snickered, her eyes turned to the next group of incoming guests as they climbed the stone stairs to the door. Amelia looked shocked, then narrowed her eyes at Joanna, as she said quietly, “What orgy are you talking about, sis? What do you have in mind that I should know about?”

“...I was only... it was only wishful thinking, sis.” Joanna stammered as she tried to figure out what she had done wrong so suddenly, staring at Amelia in amazement for a few seconds.

Amelia relaxed then, snickering in reply as she greeted the next of the arrivals as they stood by the door for the next few minutes, highly pleased with herself for having been able to tease Joanna, even though the spot on her shoulder stung a little bit where Joanna had swatted her gently when she figured out that Amelia had been teasing as they were greeting the next group of arrivals.

But at the same time, Amelia knew now that she could afford to relax a bit; her secret plans for the party were still safe from discovery by her sister, and one of the guests of honor had finally arrived safely.

However, Zeke was only one of the surprises in store for Joanna at this party, Amelia knew as she shared a glance with Raven behind Joanna’s back while the three of them were standing at the door greeting some of the next round of incoming guests for a few minutes.

A few minutes later, Joanna slipped away during a lull in the arrivals, saying something about having to visit the ladies room for a few seconds, and Amelia smiled before saying that she would have to soon herself.

But she knew that was just a cover; she knew that leaving the door right now was likely to lead to her missing the arrivals she had been waiting for all day, And Amelia knew she didn’t want that to happen. She had told them she would be at the door waiting for them when they had texted her a little bit ago saying they were finally on their way...!

As some of the others began to arrive, Amelia knew that she would have to be glad for her sister’s tendency to disappear from the duty of greeting new arrivals. It didn’t suit Amelia that Joanna should find out—yet-- that there wasn’t one orgy planned for this party, but two that Amelia had been deeply involved in the planning of.

Especially as some of the guests that were arriving now were among the insects that Amelia had specially invited for the orgy that she had planned for that evening’s entertainment, even though only the smallest one was supposed to be tonight; the others were supposed to be spaced over the rest of the year as part of the century celebrations.

But Amelia knew that they knew that; they were only here to help Joanna celebrate her birthday; and many of them were carrying obvious birthday gifts as they approached.

Amelia hoped that Joanna would ask about one or two of them; specifically one that looked like a fungus with several thick, almost... furry looking tentacles-- along with several others that looked like they had soft spines growing from their sides-- that was in a large terracotta pot.

Another gift that looked like a young tree in a similarly sized pot was also being carried into the house that Amelia wondered about, but she knew that she would likely find out about it when Joanna did.

At the same time, Amelia knew that she didn’t know what the plants were, but she was fairly sure that Joanna would; though the fungus looked vaguely familiar for some reason. She was sure that she had seen one like that before, but for the life of her, she couldn’t recall where she had seen it.

And at the same time, Amelia had heard from Uncle Vlad that he had plans for a special orgy himself, with Joanna as the focal point at some point during the party, even if it didn’t happen until later in the year; closer to Advent, Uncle Vlad had said.

But she knew too that her sister’s husband didn’t want his plans spoiled by his wife finding out about them too soon, so she was glad that she had made sure that Joanna didn’t know yet.

But Raven shook his head in mild exasperation with Amelia for having almost blown the surprise they had been planning for Joanna for months now; and he knew that when they got to what Amelia had planned, he was going to have to be very careful to spend several minutes with Joanna, soothing her confusion at the very least. At the same time, he hoped that the confusion would be only a momentary consideration, buried under more pleasant... more physical activity, when the time was right.

But then, of course, he knew about Amelia’s plans for some night during the run of the party. He simply hadn’t told Joanna that he knew.

As for Joanna, she had soon put the incident out of her thoughts, having guests to greet and show around the house to the various activities that were going on; the dancing in the ballroom, the light meal being served to several parties of guests in the garden, or even take part in the huge game of light tag—crossed with a high tech variant of hide and seek—that was going on in the Maze and had been for most of the day.

David was out there with a few of his friends, observing the action to make sure nothing got too far out of hand and to prevent injuries to the players, and he had been monitoring the activity for most of the day.

There was even a small group in the jacuzzi, enjoying the warmth of the water and motion of the bubbles, as well as a smaller group enjoying the indoor heated pool that Joanna’s Father had put in a few years back.

And David didn’t mention the very active five-way that was going on in the jacuzzi right then, though he knew that his sisters would have wanted to be involved in as many ways as they could if they had known about it. Byron and Cordi were—as usual—in the middle of all the action, and even though they weren’t wrapped around each other at the time, they were also—kind of—directing the action.

And Joanna knew too that there were even a few waiting to use the sauna, but most of those were guests who were planning to spend more than a few days visiting with this branch of the family.

In most cases, they were her cousins from far flung branches of the family who kept suites at the mansion, though they were only rarely there, like Cousin Laurel and her new husband, or Cousins Kendall and Annabeth, who usually stayed in the suite down the hall from Joanna’s suite.

Even Cousin Tedra was home for the party, Joanna knew, though none of the group had seen much of her somewhat reclusive cousin since she had arrived three days before. And Joanna knew that someone was going to have to make sure she was okay soon.

Later, of course, there would be watching Joanna, Cordelia and Jayne open their gifts later, after the huge three tiered, fruit filled cake had been cut, and the hand-cranked homemade dreamseed ice cream-- with as many different kinds of toppings as there were guests present—had been served.

Joanna knew that she would probably have several helpings of the ice cream, but the cake promised to be so rich that she was pretty sure that she would only be able to get through one piece, even though normally she could get through two or more pieces of Mira’s specialty cakes.

And this one certainly qualified as a specialty, Joanna thought; she had seen the pattern Mira was using to build this one, and she knew just from that that it was larger than Joanna wanted to tackle making on her own.

Both Amelia and Joanna knew that it was likely that she would be on a severe sugar over-load for the next few days after the amount of dreamseed sauce she planned to have on her cake and ice cream tonight.

But that wasn’t going to be until after dinner, so she had hours left to enjoy before she had to worry about having cake or ice cream, even though she had discussed the potential for problems from the sugar with both Jayne and Vlad, as well as with Amelia and Raven.

Vlad had been sure that the sugar wouldn’t cause too much trouble for her changed metabolism, but he thought it would be an interesting experiment. Jayne knew what too much sugar did to Joanna before the Bond had changed Joanna’s physiology, but she admitted that she didn’t know what it would do now.

After all, it was possible that it would do nothing at all, or it would make her so hyper that all she could do was try to use up the energy, or something in between, Jayne had said when she was consulted about the possible situation.

And Amelia had simply hugged Joanna and said softly, “Well, if you get too hyper from it, you know what we’ll have to do about it, don’t you.” And Joanna had smiled, replying, “Playroom, for sure then.”

Then, before Amelia could even nod in reply, Raven had chimed in with, “Yup. And maybe we’ll be able to convince her to feed then.” he added, eyeing Joanna sternly for a few seconds until she had nodded meekly, then the three of them burst into laughter once more.

Eventually, Joanna knew that she was going to want to be in both the pool and the jacuzzi too, even if it wasn’t tonight. She hadn’t been in the jacuzzi—or in the sauna either for that matter-- in so long that she had almost forgotten what they were like, and she knew that she would have to make the time soon.

The party was going to be each night for the rest of the year, she knew, so there was plenty of time for her to do everything she wanted, with whomever she wanted, so she wasn’t planning to worry about it much for now, so long as they were going to be safe enough to enjoy the doing.

And that was where Jerrica and Vlad’s other security measures came in, Joanna knew. But, at the same time, she knew she couldn’t help worrying, just a little bit; after all, it was the Brotherhood that they were talking about. And at the same time, Joanna hoped that the measures wouldn’t be necessary; she wanted nothing to go wrong with her party tonight.

A few of the guests were also in the parlour, playing a table top game at one of the small tables that seemed to be getting a little more intense than it had been the last time she had checked through here, Joanna thought as she walked through, nodding and smiling at her guests as they glanced up when she passed by.

At the same time, in another section of the large upstairs gameroom, a few die-hard gamers were working on finishing a game session of Magick and Monsters that had actually been started at least five days before on one of the larger tables, with maps, multi-colored dice, character sheets and several different kinds of hand crafted miniatures spread out over the whole length.

She paused to listen in on the action for a few seconds as Drew rolled one of the many oddly shaped dice in front of him and said, “Twenty-five should still hit it, right?”

One of the others—Stephen to be specific— answered Drew’s question with another question, though Drew didn’t show any sign that he minded, “Uh, twenty-five? Right. You’re flanking it with Josie’s character still, right?” he asked.

Drew and Josie both spoke up at the same time, “Yeah.”

And Stephen nodded abstractedly, saying, “Then yeah, you hit it.” as he consulted the papers in front of him to be sure that the numbers all matched up, obviously trying to figure out if the thing he was playing was only almost dead, or completely dead.

“Okay, now for the damage... alright! Max damage!!” Drew crowed, pumping his fist in jubilation as his dice roll did what he had been hoping for.

“That’s it, people, the beast goes down.” Stephen replied, his face showing a combination of irritation that his creature had been defeated so easily and pride that the group had thought of the right combination of attacks to be able to bring it down without too much damage to their characters. And Joanna smiled at the pleasure Drew radiated at having been the one to strike the final blow.

As she headed on to the ballroom, she heard him saying that he was going to have to upgrade his armor with some of his share of the treasure, if they could be sure of finding it, and he was still speaking when she passed out of easy earshot of his voice.

Still others of the many guests circulating through the house tonight were in the entertainment room, debating whether or not they were going to put on a movie, or simply play on one of the five or six different kinds of game consoles that were there for the kids and grandkids to play games on when they came to visit.

But at the same time, she knew that she would have to go back to the door in a bit, so while she was away this time, she took a brief turn down one of the many tables that had been set up with trays and platters of various kinds of finger foods, and she set up a small plate of nibblies for herself, as well as one for Amelia and one for Raven, knowing that they too would be getting hungry.

It crossed her mind in that instant to think about drinks, but only insofar as to notice that she was getting thirsty.

After all, it was nearly time for early supper, Joanna knew and Mira had said that dinner was going to be served later tonight on purpose. But too, Joanna had been nibbling off and on all day, so she knew that it was getting to be time for another plate for herself. However, at the same time, she wondered how Henri was doing in the ballroom right now, or if he was even still there.

Lia always gets grumpy when she’s hungry, and lately, she has been forgetting to eat while she’s been getting ready for this party. And I think that Devon forgot that I was getting hungry.

Not to mention that Amelia, Raven and I haven’t been able to go to the playroom together for a few days again... no wonder she’s grumpy and frustrated... though she seems a bit better now.... Joanna thought absently as she filled the plates with tiny Mini Innies; tiny, toothpick sized Osos Kebabs and Cervus stuffed Ruby Cones as well as sweet pickled baby rodfruit.

That was along with several sweetly succulent pieces of curried mouthwhisker sashimi, a couple chedi alofy stuffed Cervus sliders each, and a big scoop of homemade Alpine Treasure tuber salad, garnished with wide sprigs of braised sweetleaves, and several small handfuls of Toasted Grasshoppers rolled in beesweets and powdered dragonpod dust tossed over the top of the tuber salad.

And as she did, Joanna quickly stuffed one of the pieces of sashimi into her own mouth and began to chew, knowing that she needed the nutrition too if she was going to keep from fainting again before the party really got started for the night.

A few more pickled baby rodfruit—this time preserved in picklespice-- and pickled springstalks, small sections of alofy and curlcrawler stuffed waterstalks with ground salvewort leaves and powdered dragonpod, and darksweet lanternfruits and a medium sized scoop of pickled oilfruit stuffed with a grylanic clove each completed each plate and Joanna was soon hurrying back to the door with the plates of food balanced on a wide tray.

But two steps toward the door from the table, she realized that her lovers would probably like something to drink too, so she summoned the nearest of the passing servants and requested that some of the punch from the ballroom be brought to the door for Amelia and Raven.

It was then that she realized that she would likely have to go downstairs again for a few minutes if she was going to get through the evening’s party without there being... further repercussions from her not feeding in time.

The tiny sips she had taken from Devon during loveplay had only been enough to keep her from making a mistake, not settle her hunger, and she knew that only getting a full feeding again would be enough to settle the issue. The ‘wine cellar’ would be best, she knew, but how to get the word to Amelia and Raven without openly saying that was what she was doing, she wondered.

She knew too that she had fed from Raven earlier, and gotten some more from Vlad, but that still didn’t constitute a full feeding, and Joanna knew too that taking more from Raven might be too dangerous for him, so she didn’t want to do anything that would risk his life.

After all, Joanna knew she couldn’t very well feed openly from just anyone—even at a party this large—and, if she were to sip from either Amelia or Raven, the one who donated would tire more easily, Joanna thought as she stood in the dining room with the three plates in her hands. Even though she knew by now that both knew to make more as she fed, she still worried about draining them too fully.

But at the same time, everything on her plate looked appetizing, so she set down enough of the tray to free one hand, and grabbed a couple more of the pieces of sashimi from the tray on the table, chewing thoughtfully on the spiced rivergrains and fish while she considered what might be the best idea to do about this quandry. And telling them in their thoughts could lead to delays that could lead to problems for her, she knew.

Then it occurred to her that she could get someone else to take these to the door while she went downstairs for a minute or two. That’s likely to be why I’ve been so confused again... I must really need to feed again... or is it that damned vision about the threats again? Joanna thought, mildly worried now. Usually the confusion was only a component of her having deliberately not fed, and she wondered if the depression over what had happened just ahead of her wedding had somehow come back, or if it was simply the vision that Vlad had shaken her free of earlier.

But she couldn’t see how the depression could have come back—it was an artifact of the stress connected with Daddy’s injury and nothing more-- Joanna knew. And eventually, she decided that she would have to ignore the niggling worry as well as she could for now and deal with what she could deal with; worry about the rest of it later when she had more time.

However, at the same time, that vision about the club from earlier kept intruding on her thoughts at the most inopportune times, she thought as another flash flew through her mind. This time, it was an image of a young woman’s twisted corpse at the bottom of a staircase that looked almost like it had been outside and headed down into the ground, and eventually to the door of the club.

Somehow, Joanna knew that the stairs led down and into the club from street level, and that the body she was seeing had been put there to frighten both the employees and the patrons into not coming back to the club again. And she wondered if it had worked; the images stopped when that one had faded from her mind. But she knew that she had been interrupted in the middle of something that she could handle, so she needed to get these plates of food to Amelia and Raven where they were at the door as quickly as she could if she planned to go down to the ‘wine cellar’ this afternoon at all.

Apparently, they had gone back there after Harrold had wandered off again, and Joanna knew that it was one of the three or four places that she would be sure of being able to find them today, at least until dinner was served.

And so, accordingly, she had summoned another of the servants—a young woman named Lydia this time—and had her deliver the plates of food, as well as pass on the message to Amelia and Raven that she had gone back downstairs to the ‘wine cellar’ for a few minutes, and that she would return as soon as she could. And then she suggested that they too might be interested in having something to drink as well, so Lydia should fetch them whatever they would like to drink with their snack.

When the message had been delivered, Amelia nodded in relief, though Raven knew that she wished Joanna had fed from them again before the party had really gotten started for the day, so that this wouldn’t have happened.

However, this was what the new ‘wine cellar’ was for; to prevent possible problems for her. And he wasn’t quite ready to tell Amelia what had happened when he and Vlad had been downstairs with Joanna earlier.

That it also kept the staff from finding bottles of blood in the fridge helped, but that was somewhat beside the point, both Amelia and Raven knew as they began to eat the snack that Joanna had sent for them. And they wondered where Vlad was that he hadn’t been able to remind her that she would need to feed at regular intervals during this section of her party. Then it occurred to both of them that he had been reminding her; she simply hadn’t been able to find the time to do so.

In that instant, it crossed Amelia’s mind to wonder when Joanna was going to be willing to close the Bonds between them, but it wasn’t something that she thought should be done at a party, so she tried to put the thought out of her mind until a more appropriate time to ask her sister about what she had planned for the day they would complete the Exchange. Then Amelia realized that she was being very selfish; today was Joanna’s special day, and all Amelia could think about was making the Exchange.

And Amelia shook her head as she blushed at the thought of how selfish she had been being; especially about Alyx today, she thought guiltily. But at the same time, Amelia knew too that even if she decided that she was ready, Joanna might not be ready to complete the Embrace that was needed to bring them across to her life.

So, resolutely ignoring the feeling that it needed to be done soon, Amelia turned her attention once more to greeting the many guests as they arrived, knowing that was something that would keep her mind on what she was supposed to be doing, instead of daydreaming about the future. Especially if she was going to be able to spend any more time with Alyx before she was able to get back to the apartment she shared with Petrova in Seven Havens, Amelia knew.

But, she also knew that the apartment had been declared unsafe by Vlad’s recovery team when they had gone in to sweep for evidence of how their attacker had found them, more than a year ago now. And Amelia knew that Alyx was sure that they were going to have to find another place to live soon; Alyx didn’t want to spend the rest of this century ‘couch-surfing’ at Joanna’s. And she was sure that Petrova didn’t either.

However, Amelia knew that she didn’t want her newest vampyre lover to disappear from her life so soon, so she knew that helping Alyx find a place was going to have to be something that she did, but maybe not until after the party was over, Amelia hoped.

Meanwhile, in the ‘wine cellar’ that her Father had put into one of the downstairs chambers in the lowest levels of the UnderManse, Joanna was enjoying a full feeding at last, as well as finishing the snacks on the plate she had brought down with her, and finishing the soda she had gotten from the fridge in the kitchenette on this level. And as she had returned to the couch where Raven had lain so recently, Vlad smiled at Joanna as he opened his arms to her again, and they spent a few more minutes cuddling on the couch.

When they were done, she made sure to clean up after herself, and carefully made sure that she hadn’t gotten any on her clothes or left a spot on her lips. Some of her guests might not know what had happened a few years ago, she knew, so it was simply better to make sure that it stayed that way for now.

“I’m glad you finally took my advice and fed, beloved.” Vlad said into her hair as he held her, knowing that they only had a few more minutes before they were expected to return to the party abovestairs.

And as she rested in the safety of his embrace, Joanna could feel the blood she’d consumed renewing her strength once more, she rested on the sofa in the corner of the darkened room devoted exclusively to her comfort for a few seconds before deciding that she should probably get back upstairs to the rest of her guests and the party that sounded like it was gaining momentum overhead. But she knew too that it would be a few more seconds before she would be able to fully retract her fangs, and she wanted to wait for that before she headed back to her guests.

A few minutes later, Joanna was closing the door to the UnderManse behind her and Vlad once more when she realized there was someone watching them from where they seemed to have been artfully posed at the bottom of the grand staircase. Glancing around, she saw the centaur her Father had introduced to her as Ezekeiel, and she nodded and smiled. He smiled in reply, and said, “Enjoying the party?” as he nodded to Vlad in greeting.

Vlad smiled and nodded in reply, knowing that Joanna would likely be-- at least-- a few more minutes before she could return to the ballroom, if Ezekeiel had his way about it. And Vlad said softly, “My love, I really should see to our guests. But I’m sure that Ezekeiel would be happy to escort you to the ballroom. I shall see you when you get there, my sweet.”

“Yeah. You?” she asked, knowing it wasn’t the most witty reply she could have made, but it had been what had fallen out of her mouth in that instant, and there was no chance to retract the comment, no matter how inane it had sounded to her at the time. And it had sounded inane.

Then what Vlad had said finally sank in and Joanna shook her head, and said in his thoughts, ◊Of course, my love. I have no idea when that will be, though. I have this feeling that Ezekeiel and I have quite a lot to discuss.◊ And Vlad took her hand, lifted it to his lips and kissed it before he bowed to Ezekeiel and handed her hand to him, in the manner of a gentleman handing off a dance partner, and Joanna wondered exactly how much Vlad knew about what she hoped might happen between her and the Centaur that evening.

“Oh yes, very much. However, there is someone here that I should very much like to get to know better.” he said, watching her appreciatively as Vlad stepped back and headed toward the ballroom at a brisk pace. She smiled and blushed, almost all her dimples showing in that instant, and she asked, “Now, why would you wanna get to know me better? I thought Daddy and Uncle Vlad had already told you everything there was to know about me.” she said shyly as she pulled the door closed.

“Would you believe me if I said I had been dreaming about you?” he asked suavely, hoping his sudden spurt of worry hadn’t shown in his eyes as he watched her. He hadn’t realized that she would willingly spend time alone with him already; he had been expecting her to request a chaperone. And he abruptly didn’t know which direction he hoped she would respond to his question.

“Really?” she asked, wondering immediately what the dream had been about. For a nano-second, she wondered if it had been one of the more elaborate dreams that she had shared with the passion group, but then she focused again on Ezekeiel and what he had said. “Would you feel like telling me about it?” she asked, half hoping that he would.

“Well, it was kind of a-a... racy dream... I don’t know. Is there somewhere more... I don’t know... maybe a bit more private where we could go to discuss it?” he replied as he glanced around the-- currently empty-- foyer, and she could tell that he was serious. But at the same time, she was curious about it now, so she gestured to the door she had just closed, and said “If you don’t object to stairs, we could go down into the UnderManse to one of the rooms down there. That way, no one would be able to bother us until we were ready to come out again.” she added coyly.

And he wondered what she had in mind for the rest of the time they would be down there. But at the same time, Zeke didn’t realize that she had been having dreams of her own that she might want to discuss with him.

“That would be fine.” he said as he turned to follow her down the stairs to the room she had mentioned. He didn’t say anything about how difficult it had been for him to climb the stairs to Richard’s office this afternoon, but at the same time, hoping that Joanna hadn’t seen him shifting his shape enough to manage the stairs ahead of her Father as they had headed upstairs to the office for the private conversation he had requested, upon Ezekeiel’s arrival. And he did something similar as he went down these stairs behind her, thankful for the tradition of ‘ladies first’ in this instance.

“It really was a very explicit dream.” he added as he did, almost under his breath, not sure what he hoped for in telling her about the dream he suspected that they had shared so soon in their acquaintance. But he felt like it was the thing to do right now, and Ezekeiel was never one to ignore gut instinct when it was screaming at him to speak up. Especially when speaking could lead to him getting laid for the first time in many months, he knew.

A short staircase later, she was turning to unlock a second door to the right of the intersection with another corridor that went further into the UnderManse, and she reached in to flip on the lights as she headed into the room ahead of him. As he walked in behind her, he was surprised to find that the Triumphian era furniture in the medium sized room was generously enough sized for a centaur to seat themselves comfortably, and she had crossed the room to a small bar on the other side.

“Would you care for something to drink?” she asked as she reached for one of the flutes that stood waiting on the sideboard, knowing that she was suddenly thirsty again, and her mouth was drier than a simple trip downstairs should have made it as she poured some of the champagne that was here for herself.

She knew that it wasn’t blood she was thirsty for in this instance, but something with lots and lots of bubbles, and the champagne was the only thing like that down here that she didn’t have to leave the room to get. After all, having a small fridge in here was deemed unnecessary, and Joanna wished now that she had insisted..

“Sure. Brandy, neat, please.” he replied, smiling as she shifted smoothly from reaching for another flute to reaching for an on-the-rocks glass with one hand and reached to the well-stocked supply of bottles on the back of the bar with the other, without seeming to look to be sure she had grabbed the right one.

And soon she was pouring three fingers of the amber fluid into the glass, and she brought it to him as he seated himself on the floor near one of the wing-backed sofas that had been upholstered in burgundy brocades which appeared to be trimmed in aurantium.

There was a small end table at his left elbow, and as she handed the glass to him, he carefully set it down on a coaster on the table, and she hoped it would be somewhere that he would be able to remember where he had put it when he was actually ready to drink what he had requested.

She settled on the sofa near him and-- without seeming to make a big deal about it-- straightened her skirts and disposed herself to listen to his tale as she sipped her champagne quietly as he began to speak, though for quite a while, he had no idea of the direction of her thoughts.

“The dream is one I find myself lost in quite frequently, and it always opens in a woodland setting. I am there with a small group of people, and there are always two myrasti with us and me. From what I can gather, for the most part, I was wearing the shape of a stoyrai in the dream, but occasionally, I am as you see me now in the dream.” he said, gesturing to his flanks and tail in illustration and she nodded her understanding as he continued.

And she wondered if he meant what it had sounded like he had meant; that he had other forms available to him, like Raven and his family did. And she hoped too that it meant what she thought it might; that he hoped to use the other forms around her at some point in the future. But she knew that she would have to be patient now if she hoped to see anything but the form he wore now.

“I don’t remember seeing much of the other two people in the dream-- though I knew they were there-- only the woman whom I was... pleasuring, deeply.” he said, and she wondered if he was blushing, but with his dark skin, it was harder for her to tell than it would have been if it had been Raven saying it, Joanna knew. He almost seemed like he was embarrassed by explaining the dream, but she knew at the same time that he wasn’t going to give up on what he had set himself to do now that he had gotten her alone with him.

“Well, you did say it was an explicit dream.” Joanna replied, wondering if he was talking about the dream she had had at Winter Coronation all those years ago. But that dream was so long ago... I remember everything that happened in that dream... That’s right, I had that dream again last night, didn’t I? And she found herself hoping that it had been, though she knew she had to brace for disappointment if it turned out to be something more... innocent, even though he had said that it had been an explicit dream. Joanna knew that her definition of the term and other people’s frequently differed wildly.

“I never get to see much of her face, but she has the most gorgeous shade of red-gold hair, and she tasted so sweet, like sugared heartberries in cream. Like your hair, m’lady, if I may make so bold as to say.” he added, and she blushed again, though-- he was relieved to note-- she didn’t protest.

“But, if I’m being honest with myself, it is the power of her orgasms that really make me remember the dream each time it visits me in my sleep.” he said quietly, at first studying his hands for a few seconds, then looking up at her. And she could see that he hoped she believed what he was telling her from the earnest expression in his eyes as he seemed to suddenly remember the drink at his elbow, reached for it and tossed off the whole thing like it was a shot and shook for a second as the liquor hit his system like an electric shock.

As he drank it, Joanna wondered what had caused him to doubt his dreams so fiercely, but she knew that if the theory that she was forming was right, then she would possibly have the time to find out.

He was more than attractive to her anyway, and she knew that him knowing about the dream only made him more so to her. And in that instant, she wondered how he would respond to being invited to dreamseed ‘mud wrestling’. But that was for later, she knew.

“Would you like another?” she asked as she watched him, and wondering what he was thinking in that instant. Judging by the expression on his face, she could tell that he was once more nearly lost in the dream that he had been telling her about.

“Hunh?” he asked, and she smiled. He looked confused, and she knew she would have to let him off the hook before he would even be able to answer her question.

“The glass in your hand is empty. I wondered if you wanted another one.” she said calmly, lifting a finger to gesture to the empty glass in his hand.

“Oh. Oh! Yes, please.” he said hurriedly, holding the glass out to be refilled as she rose to go to the bar once more. Thoughts of the dream he had been telling her about were swirling lazily through his head as he watched her, bemused as she built him another drink of the same kind and strength, he wondered exactly who she was, that a mortal female should have the effect of rendering him almost speechless with passion and need, like any teenage boy.

Zeke thought that he was beyond all that, but being alone with Joanna was proving differently. Perhaps it’s her eyes; I don’t think I have ever seen that color on such a stunningly beautiful woman before today. Zeke thought, struggling to unscramble his thoughts long enough to explain them to himself, and failing abysmally.

And even though he knew he wanted her for the beauty that he was seeing, simply by being in her presence, he knew that if she was the woman in his dreams, then he needed to be with her in the most intimate ways possible.

Fragments of thoughts about her strength passing on to the next generation of his eggs flew through the back of his mind at the speed of thought, and he knew that he had to be with her tonight if at all possible. And as she sat and listened, he was able to get through describing the dream he’d had, hoping that it would lead to more intimate activity later on.

But as words began to fail him once more, he found that once more his glass was empty, and she offered to refill it with a smile that he found enchanting.

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