"Hark! The Herald Angels sing:
'Glory to the Newborn King!'"
IT was Christmas Eve, and within the nightclub known as The Vampire Lestat, the festivities were in full swing. Elegantly attired in a dark blue tuxedo that set off his black hair and violet eyes, the club's owner, Louis de Valmont, moved among his guests, a perfect, charming host as he chatted with each one, his manner warm and friendly.
As the band finished its set, the red-haired young man behind the mike vaulted to the floor and strolled easily over to the bar, where he fixed the raven-tressed young woman standing behind it with a radiant smile. "Cat, cherie! Have you a drink for a very thirsty singer on this happy evening?"
Returning his grin with one of her own, she replied, "I might." Then she raised her emerald eyes to the ceiling, from which was suspended a sprig of mistletoe. Her expression turned coy, and she fluttered her long dark lashes at him. "That is, if you give this lonely bartender something in return."
"D'accord, mon coeur," he returned, his eyes aglow. Tilting her chin up with a tender hand, he let his lips seek hers in a lingering kiss.
"When Armand comes up for air, tell him we need him back on stage," jibed one of the band members, a small, leather-clad young woman with a crop of black hair.
"Aw, didja have to cut it short, Erin? Some of us were enjoying it." This came from the slim, brown-mopped youth with drumsticks in one hand, his shoulders shaking with suppressed giggles under his fraying jeans jacket. Laughing, he ducked the playful swipe Armand took at his head as the band made its way back up on stage. After downing a glass of deep red wine from the club's private stock, the red-headed lead followed suit.
Nearly an hour later, as the guests were beginning to disperse, Cat looked up from toweling off the bar to meet the twinkling eyes of the club's owner.
"You've done enough for tonight, Cat. Artamise and I can close up; you and the rest go home and enjoy yourselves." His soft French accent, still present despite years in the United States, lent a musical richness to his speech.
When she would have demurred, he squeezed her hand. "No arguments. It is Christmas, and I am certain you have better things to do tonight than tend the bar, non?" Casting a pointed glance at the band's leader, he gave her a knowing wink and swept silently away.
Half an hour later, Cat and Armand were strolling arm in arm down a snow-dusted sidewalk, the silvery light of the full moon giving the scene an ethereal, mystical quality. Nestling her head against the supple black leather of Armand's jacket, Cat looked dreamily at the delicate crystals falling from the sky and sighed softly at the beauty of it all.
It was then that they heard the crying. Curious as to what could be making those high-pitched, broken wails, the two followed the sound into a narrow alley, where they saw a blanket wrapped bundle from which waved two chubby white arms. With a gasp of alarm, Cat went down on her knees beside it, hastily moving aside the blanket to reveal the small face of a tiny infant. The baby continued to cry, and she gathered the little one to her, crooning a lullaby softly under her breath until the child stopped sobbing. As the infant nuzzled at her jacket, her eyes met Armand's and their minds touched with the talent peculiar to their kind.
He nodded sagely. :The most likely explanation.: He searched expertly through the worn wrappings for any clue to the child's identity, but he came up with nothing. He frowned at his companion. :What do we do now? We cannot very well take the bebe in ourselves, Kitten.:
"Well, we have to do something," she returned. "There's no way we can just leave it here!"
Armand couldn't mask a chuckle. "This 'it' is a 'she,' petite." He paused to tickle the child under the chin, and was rewarded with a giggle, but then his expression turned serious. "Isn't there a children's home nearby?"
"The Immaculate Heart Orphanage is two blocks away," Cat returned, tucking the blanket closer around the baby in preparation for the walk. Though she longed to keep the foundling, she knew it would be better for the child to be among her own kind. **After all, what adoption agency would let you be raised by someone who sleeps all day, eh, sweetheart?** Nestling the little girl against her chest, she followed Armand down the street. Several minutes later, the two were ringing the orphanage's doorbell. The mellow chime was answered almost immediately by a young woman in a nun's habit, her sweet face rimmed by curling chestnut hair beneath her veil. "Yes? May I help you?"
Flushing a bit, Cat proffered the dozing infant. "Please, SisterŠwe were wondering if you could take this poor baby in."
With a warm smile, the nun held out her arms for the precious bundle. "Of course. Come right in; you can put her in one of the rooms upstairs."
While Cat followed the nun, Armand gazed at the scattering of children in the main room, reminded of a similar place that he'd seen in his days in war-torn France many years ago. Those memories led to other, darker ones, and he hastily banished them with a shake of his head. If there was one thing he'd learned in his long lifetime, it was that no good ever came of stirring up old ghosts.
Upstairs, Cat tenderly tucked the baby girl into a crib, smiling at the nun, who introduced herself as Sister Elizabeth. "I'm glad you were so close by--we couldn't think of anywhere else to take her."
Sister Elizabeth nodded, but the smile she gave Cat was a little sad. "You're lucky you brought her here tonight. We wouldn't have been able to help tomorrow--I'm afraid we're too short of money to continue to keep the orphanage open." Tears starting in her eyes, she hastily left the room in order to compose herself in private. Cat watched her go, her emerald eyes liquid with sympathy. Then she turned to the sleeping baby, and an idea began to form. A smile beginning to tug at the corners of her mouth, she went to hunt up Armand.
She found him in the main room downstairs, spinning a tale of adventure for a group of enraptured kids. After he'd finished and his young audience had dispersed, she drew him aside, telling him of the orphanage's plight and of her idea to help. As he listened, a grin spread across his face and his eyes lit up; he was utterly taken with her plan.
Twenty minutes later, the last minute shoppers in the Washington Galleria were treated to a very special performance of Children of the Night, house band of the famed Vampire Lestat. There was but one stipulation: those who stopped to listen were asked to make a donation to the little metal pot at the band's feet, which bore a sign labeled Save the Immaculate Heart Orphanage. Captivated by the fine playing of the band and the gold and silver tones of Armand and Cat, the shoppers were more than willing to fill the little container with bills.
By the time the people had dispersed at just past one, Cat took a break to count the money in the pot and let out a whoop of joy.
"There's more than two thousand dollars in here! This'll help the orphanage out for sure!"
At five-thirty on Christmas morning, Sister Elizabeth went out to retrieve the morning paper for what she feared would be the last time, and was utterly perplexed when she saw a small metal pot resting on the doorstep, filled to overflowing with money and bearing nothing else save a note written in a neat, anonymous hand: Hoping this can be of some use to you. Merry Christmas, from your guardian angels.
Hastily bringing the pot inside, she counted out almost two thousand and fifty dollars in fives, tens, and twenties, as well as an astonishing number of ones and some scattered change. As she laid the money out on the table in neat piles, tears were once again brimming in her eyes, but this time they were tears of happiness.
In a room in an apartment near the nightclub strip, its windows covered by sheets of black velour against the rays of the sun, Cat was snuggling up against Armand on the bed, the soft beating of his heart beneath her ear making soothing music of its own.
"That was a wonderful idea you had to help the Immaculate Heart," he said softly, stroking the raven silk that crowned her head.
Her green eyes shone. "I couldn't have done it without your help, love. Merci beaucoup."
"You're very welcome," he said, not quite catching a yawn. Then, "Merry Christmas, Cat."
She laughed softly. "Joyeaux Noel right back at you, hon." Then she frowned, fighting to keep her eyes open against the relentless pull of the daylight slumber that claimed all their kind. "Armand?"
She lifted her head to look at him, and saw that his eyes were closed, his breathing slow and rhythmic. With a shrug, she cuddled closer to him and closed her eyes, and then she, too, slept, a warm glow in her heart.