“Are you ready for this?”
“I have no idea,” Orlando admitted, coming to sit next to Alain on the bed. “We’ve gone through all the training, we’ve got the house ready, everything is set. Nicole arrives tomorrow.”
“And you’re scared out of your mind,” Alain surmised.
“And you’re not?” Orlando asked. “I know you better than that.”
“How do you think I knew what you were feeling?” Alain asked. “Claire said it was normal to have doubts. She only worries about people who don’t question whether they’re doing the right thing.”
“I know, I was there,” Orlando said. The energetic social worker had helped smooth over any number of bumps in their road: his being a vampire, their being gay, to name the biggest. Their status as war heroes had probably helped, but he knew he owed Claire a debt of thanks for making their dream of being foster parents to war orphans a reality. “I know you’ll be a wonderful father to them. I’ve listened to Thierry tell stories about the way you were with your son. You’ll be the same loving man with our little refugees. I have nothing like that to draw on, and my experiences with my own father were so long ago and from such a different time that I’m not sure they even come into play.”
“Children need one thing more than anything else,” Alain said, his voice firm with conviction. “They need to be loved unconditionally. That doesn’t mean you take their crap and let them walk all over you, but it means that no matter what they do, when you tuck them into bed at night, you tell them you love them and you mean it. You may not have any practical experience, but you have a heart full of love. They’ll see that and respond to it.”
“I have a heart full of you,” Orlando countered. “Before I met you—”
“Let’s not think about that,” Alain said, pressing Orlando back onto the bed. “You need to feed so it’s safe for you to be outside tomorrow when Claire brings Nicole, and then I need to sleep so I’m rested enough to keep up with a six-year-old all day.”
“And you think me feeding is going to speed up you going to sleep?” Orlando teased, running his hand down Alain’s back. “That isn’t usually how that works.”
“Maybe not, but I sleep best after you’ve fed and we’ve made love,” Alain replied. He couldn’t remember the last time one hadn’t led to the other. Certainly not since the war ended. Even on the rare occasions they helped with one magical ritual or another, the Aveu de Sang gave Alain protection from overfeeding so that Orlando could continue the connection when they arrived somewhere private.
Orlando smiled. “Then let’s see about helping you sleep.” He rolled Alain beneath him and licked the brand on Alain’s neck that proclaimed them bound. The surge of love and amusement that passed through their bond only widened Orlando’s smile. Somehow, through some twist of fate or act of God, he had ended up here, in this bed, with this man. He didn’t know how he’d gotten so lucky, but he never forgot to be grateful for the gift of Alain’s presence in his life.
“Bite me already,” Alain said, but there was no heat in his words.
Orlando chuckled and lifted his head. “I thought you wanted to make love. If I bite you now, there are so many other things I can’t do.”
To prove his point, he reared back and lowered his head to Alain’s cock, licking the tip. “Unless you’re suggesting I bite you here.”
“Maybe not,” Alain said, his voice hoarse with the desire Orlando could feel resonating through his mind.
Orlando wouldn’t have done it even if Alain had said yes. He knew how much that hurt, and he wouldn’t inflict that on anyone even at their request. Instead he drew back his fangs and slid lips down the hardening shaft, taking it deep into his mouth. Alain tossed his head, but his hips stayed still, leaving Orlando in control of their interactions. Orlando wanted more, though, so he slipped one hand between Alain’s legs, circling Alain’s entrance in the one caress that never failed to shatter his lover’s control.
Alain’s hips lifted, driving his cock into Orlando’s throat. Orlando swallowed and hummed his approval, projecting his need through their bond as firmly as he could. Alain was always so careful not to do anything that might trigger bad memories for Orlando, and without that, Orlando doubted they would have made it through as well as they did, but tonight Orlando wanted this. He wanted Alain to let go and fuck his mouth and throat. Fortunately Alain seemed to get the message, beginning to move in time with Orlando’s suction, his hips rising and falling in a rhythm designed to steal both their wits. Within minutes, a burst of hot cream filled Orlando’s mouth, one of the few tastes besides Alain’s blood he could savor fully.
The magic of the Aveu de Sang would let them prolong their encounter as much as they wanted, provided they didn’t find release at the same time, but tomorrow would be a busy day, and Alain did not have a vampire’s ability to go for days without rest, so Orlando kissed his way up Alain’s torso, lingering over each nipple, until he once again reached the brand on Alain’s neck. His fangs pierced flesh, tasting hot blood and the myriad emotions roiling through Alain’s heart: desire laced with satiation, surprise, and, the bedrock of their lives, love.
Orlando rocked against Alain, rubbing his hard shaft against Alain’s hardening one. He would never have had the patience to wait if he hadn’t known his fangs in Alain’s neck would speed Alain to a second climax nearly as quickly as the first. As it was, though, he didn’t worry about holding back, rutting against the cradle of Alain’s body, driving them both higher and higher. He could taste the rising desire in Alain’s blood once more, matching his own until it reached a fever pitch and the repercussions reverberated between them, a never-ending feedback loop that left them both panting and exhausted on the bed.
Orlando licked the wounds on Alain’s neck to close them and nestled close to his wizard’s side. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, angel.”
“Sleep,” Orlando murmured, pressing one more kiss to the mark of their bond. “I’ll guard your dreams.”
Morning came early, but Alain didn’t protest when Orlando bounced out of bed the moment the sun peaked above the horizon. His vampire, once imprisoned by the sun’s rays, now reveled in his freedom, spending as much time outside as the demands of their lives would allow. By the time Alain had showered and came blearily downstairs, Orlando had coffee ready and breakfast on the table. The bread was still warm from the bakery down the road in Pouilly.
“And you worry about being a good father,” Alain said. “Nicole won’t drink coffee, but if she wakes up to this kind of attention every morning, she’ll never doubt you care about her and want her here.”
“Even if it’s as much for you as it is for her?” Orlando asked.
“She’s six, Orlando. Her world revolves around her still. She’ll see this and not even notice the coffee that isn’t for her, or if she does notice, it will be an afterthought. You’ll be Papa Orlando, and she’ll think you hung the moon.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Alain ate while Orlando fussed around the kitchen, making sure everything was in its place. When Alain was finished, Orlando insisted on checking the room they had prepared for Nicole one more time to make sure everything was perfect.
The sun had risen enough to cast gentle rays through the dormer windows they had added to the attic of the house, converting the space into a series of loft rooms that would, they hoped, allow them to welcome several children at a time into their home and their lives. Claire said it would depend on how things went with Nicole, but she had been cautiously optimistic that their plan would work.
Everything was exactly as they had left it the day before, the flowered comforter adding a touch of femininity to the yellow walls and white trim. A few books sat on the desk and Orlando had put a stuffed bear on the pillow, a welcome gift to Nicole.
“It’s perfect,” Alain said. “She’ll love it here, and we’ll fill it with all the things she needs once she gets here and we know her tastes a little better.”
“It’s almost time.”
“We can go sit in the courtyard until they get here,” Alain said, knowing Orlando would pace wherever they waited. At least outside, they would hear the car approaching. Their quiet little street in their quiet little town had very little traffic, especially once everyone else had gone to work.
A high wall extended from the corner of the house along the road to the three-sided shed where they kept their little Peugeot. Alain had never owned a car before, living in Paris with its public transportation system, but out here in the country, walking wasn’t always an option and his magic could not take Orlando with him. The pebbled courtyard between the house and the shed was surrounded with climbing roses, a touch Orlando had insisted on adding. Behind the house in the garden, they had other flowers as well, but here in front, Orlando had insisted on the roses. Alain had seen no reason to argue. He sat down on the stone bench and did his best to hide a smile as Orlando began to pace. Oh, he tried to cover it up by checking the roses, pulling a few weeds, and squashing a few aphids, but Alain knew his lover better than that. Orlando was pacing.
“It’s nine o’clock. Where are they?”
“Calm down, Orlando. There may have been bad traffic getting out of Paris. Nicole might not have been ready on time. It is a long drive, and Claire did get her up early.”
Before Orlando’s worry could escalate into a full-fledged panic, they heard the sound of a car engine at the bottom of the hill. Orlando rushed to the gate, swinging it wide in welcome. Alain shook his head indulgently and adjusted the wards that supplemented the physical barrier so Claire’s car could come through bearing the new addition to their family.
Claire climbed out of the car the moment she put it in park, but the back door didn’t open. Orlando approached the back window before Alain could stop him.
“Hi, Nicole,” he said through the open space. “How are you today?”
“Is this where you live?”
“It is,” Orlando said. “Would you like to look around?”
The little girl nodded so Orlando opened the door and helped her out. “Do you have horses?” she asked, holding a stuffed pony close to her chest.
“No horses,” Orlando said, “but we have something almost as fun. Do you want to see?”
She nodded again. Orlando led her toward the barn at the back of the property where a mama cat had given birth a few days before.
“Here’s her bag,” Claire said. “It isn’t much, but it’s all she has. I can tell she’s going to be happy here. She’s taken with Orlando already.”
“He so wants this to work.”
“It will,” Claire said. “She’s already forgotten she’s scared. Go join them. I’ll help myself to coffee and we’ll do paperwork when she’s ready to come inside.”
Alain smiled his thanks and went to join his family.
Alain paused at the doorway to Nicole’s bedroom. He had thought her asleep and so had intended to leave her to rest, but it seemed she was not as far gone as he’d believed.
“Tell me a story.”
“What kind of story?” Alain asked, returning to the foot of her bed. He didn’t know why she wasn’t exhausted. She and Orlando had explored every inch of the village, running up and down the hills and streets, laughing like banshees. It warmed Alain’s heart just to think of it.
“A magical story.”
Alain smiled and brushed her hair back from her face. “Like a fairy-tale story or a real magic story?”
“A real magic story,” Nicole said.
Alain grinned and summoned a candle with the flick of his wrist. A tap of his wand, mostly for effect, lit the wick. Nicole’s eyes widened.
“A long time ago, there was a wizard,” Alain began, casting around for the perfect words. “He was very sad and very lonely because his family had died.”
“Like my parents,” Nicole said.
“Yes, very much like that,” Alain said. “He was sure he was never going to have anyone special in his life again because he’d let bad things happen to the two people who needed him most. Then one night he was walking and he met the most beautiful young man he had ever seen.”
“Did they kiss?” Nicole asked with that mixture of curiosity and horror that only a six-year-old could muster.
“Not right away,” Alain said. “They talked first because it turns out they each had something the other wanted.”
“What?” Nicole asked.
“They each had a heart full of love to give and a deep fear of giving it,” Alain explained. “They each needed someone to love and trust, and because they were both so afraid, they knew how important it was to take good care of each other.”
“Did they die in the war too?” Nicole asked.
“No,” Alain said with a smile and another stroke of his hand over her hair. “They fought in the war, protecting each other as best they could, and when the war was over, they decided to leave Paris and move to the country.”
“Like you and Papa Orlando.”
“Exactly like us,” Alain agreed. “Can you sleep now?”
“Is that how you met Papa Orlando?”
“Yes,” Alain said. “I can do all kinds of magic with a wave of my wand and a whispered spell, but no magic will ever be as great as knowing I love Papa Orlando and that he loves me in return. Sleep well, minette. We’ll see you in the morning.”
Nicole let him leave this time. He shut the door to her room and took two steps before he ran right into Orlando. “I don’t remember it being quite that simple,” Orlando said, his smile evident in his voice, though Alain could not see it in the darkness of the hallway.
“Don’t you?” Alain said. “You took one sip of my blood, and I’ve been yours ever since. Everything else pales in comparison to that one irrefutable fact.”
“No,” Orlando said, running his fingers over the brand he didn’t need light to see. “I took one sip of your blood and I’ve been yours ever since.”
“A heart full of love and a deep fear of giving it,” Alain repeated. “I’m not scared anymore.”
“Neither am I.”