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Happy, happy! - An Exploration of Love
Original Fiction by Ariel Tachna
Happy, happy!
The sixth book in the Partnership in Blood series, Reluctant Partnerships, releases today. It's a spin-off more than a sequel in the sense that it explores the relationship of a new couple rather than focusing on the couples from the war, but all your favorites make an appearance, and I'm hopeful you'll fall as in love with Martin and Denis as I did.

Thanks to the efforts of Raymond Payet and l’ANS, vampires now have the same legal rights as mortals, and research at l’Institut Marcel Chavinier is focusing on the mysterious partnership bonds between wizards and vampires. But the battle for public opinion rages on. When Detective Adèle Rougier encounters Pascale Auboussu, a shy young woman turned into a vampire against her will, Raymond and Denis Langlois, chef de la Cour nearest the crime, fear a public relations nightmare.

The vampire responsible for Pascale’s turning must be brought to justice, but Denis is distracted by an unlikely potential partner—Canadian researcher Martin Delacroix, who is spending a year’s sabbatical at l’Institut—and Denis’s lingering feelings for his deceased lover prompt him to reject the bond. There’s no denying the attraction between them, though, and the allure of companionship is nearly as strong as Denis’s grief.

Growing familiarity and yearning for a true mate may induce Adèle and Denis to soften their stances against new partnerships, but Adèle will have to accept a deeper intimacy with Pascale when she has never considered a relationship with a woman, and it will take a near-deadly attack to make Denis admit his most hidden desires. Now he has to hope Martin will be willing to stay.

Paperback (signed copies available!)

Pascale rubbed at her eyes. She had enjoyed her visit with Stéphanie and Rémy. Dinner had been wonderful as always, and they had been as in love with each other as ever. Sometimes Pascale thought it would be easier to stop torturing herself instead of going to see them, so happy and snug in their little house when she was all alone, but she would never do that to Stéphanie. They had been friends for too long.

With a sigh, she pulled into her garage, dreading the empty bed that waited for her. Maybe tomorrow she would meet someone. Maybe the woman of her dreams was out there right now, as miserable as she was.

She snorted at the maudlin turn her thoughts had taken. All the wishful thinking in the world would not make those dreams a reality. She grabbed her purse out of the passenger seat and headed inside.

As she reached for the doorknob, hard hands grabbed her from behind, one covering her mouth, the other around her throat, constricting her breathing. She tried to scream, to fight, to flee, but her attacker was too strong. Panic roiled through her as he dragged her toward the other door, the one that led outside to her yard. She forced herself to go limp, hoping he would take what he wanted and leave her alone.
She shuddered when she felt lips on her neck and prayed he did not intend to rape her. Then his mouth opened, biting down hard, breaking skin and drawing blood. She struggled again despite her best intentions, but her feeble thrashing did no good against his strength. It became harder and harder to breathe, to keep her eyes open, to think, like a shroud being drawn across her senses.

Dear God, don’t let me die.

Adèle Rougier took a deep breath and steeled herself for the evening to come before getting out of her car at l’Institut Marcel Chavinier.

“Adèle, I see you made it, if a little bit late.”

Adèle summoned a smile for Thierry Dumont, an old friend and one of the faculty at l’Institut. “What are you doing out here?” she asked as she kissed both his cheeks in greeting. “I would’ve expected you to be inside with Raymond and the others.”

“I was finishing up some repairs on the grange,” Thierry explained. “I needed a shower.”

“How’s that coming?” Adèle asked. Even in the fading September light, Adèle could see the difference in the grange. She had watched Thierry, his partner Sebastien, and a dedicated group of craftsmen transform the old monastery in Dommartin from near ruins a year ago, with only part of the abbey itself and the abbot’s lodge in any usable condition, to a thriving research institute dedicated to exploring the partnerships between wizard and vampire, as well as other issues related to the magical community.

“We’re making progress,” Thierry said, starting toward the abbey. Adèle fell in step beside him. “We’ve patched the roof completely. Bertrand started laying pipe so we can get water there as well. I’m not sure what Raymond plans to use it for, but he wants it solid, with heat and running water.”

“You really like it here, don’t you?” Adèle asked, struggling as she always did to reconcile the image of Thierry here at l’Institut, acting as primary caretaker and guardian of the buildings, with the shrewd, calculating captain he had been during l’émeutte des Sorciers.

“I do,” Thierry said, ushering her into the scriptorium, where twenty-five people sat around a large table.

“You’ve done fabulous work. Your affinity to stone really shines through.” Adèle had seen the condition of the property before Thierry had begun making repairs, his magic fusing stone to stone once more. It made the beauty of the buildings around her all the more impressive.

“We all have our own strengths,” Thierry replied with typical modesty. “Your affinity to fire gives you an edge when it comes to the excitement of your detective work. We all did what we had to during the war, but the pace of life here at l’Institut suits me in a way your job never would.”

“How did this week’s seminar go?” Adèle asked softly, hanging back by the door. If she went farther inside, Raymond Payet, director of l’Institut, would see her and ask her again if she wanted to try to find a new partner, the central purpose of the educational seminars and indeed of l’Institut itself. With everything they had learned about the partnerships they had created so swiftly and naively at the height of the war, Adèle agreed with the logic of explaining the commitment to people before they created such a bond. She even understood Raymond’s insistence that she join them for dinner at least once a week, preferably on Sunday at the end of that week’s seminar, so he could make sure she was not suffering any ill effects from the separation from her own late partner, Jude Leighton. Jude had been destroyed during an attack on l’Institut six months before. Raymond would certainly try once again to convince her to form a new partnership. She had yet to convince him that her partnership had not been the deep, life-changing relationship most of the partnerships had become.

From just outside the door, Adèle watched as one of the wizards cast a cleansing spell on the hands of the ten vampires sitting on one side of the table. The ink marks on all ten hands disappeared, to some sighs of disappointment and perhaps one or two expressions of relief. None of the vampires was the partner of that wizard, nor of any of the others who might have tested their magic that night. If they had been, the ink would have stayed on their hands, untouched by the wizard’s magic.

“Adèle, you’ve arrived just in time.”

Adèle cursed under her breath. “Bonsoir, Raymond.”

“Come see if any of the vampires is your partner,” Raymond urged.

“Not tonight,” she demurred.

Raymond looked like he was about to argue, but Jean Bellaiche, his partner and co-director of l’Institut, intervened. “Dinner will be ready in the réfectoire if everyone would care to adjourn. We’ll join you there in a moment.”

The wizards and vampires who had come to l’Institut for the educational seminar filed out, leaving Adèle alone with Raymond, Jean, and Thierry. “Leighton is gone,” Raymond began. “There’s no reason you couldn’t form a new partnership.”

Adèle sighed. “Besides the fact that I don’t want another one?” she asked. “I had enough of that with Jude.”

She knew Raymond did not believe her, but she felt only relief at not wondering when her bastard former partner would show up on her doorstep and grab her, demanding blood and sex and submission. Raymond was too in love with his partner to understand that her own partnership had been the opposite of his. Even seeing how Jude had treated her at times, Raymond could not truly comprehend the depths of Leighton’s cruel, crude, callous disregard for Adèle.

“Leighton was an anomaly,” Raymond insisted. “A new partnership wouldn’t be that way.”

“I know you believe that,” Adèle replied, “but that doesn’t make me any more interested in taking the risk. Let’s go. Dinner’s ready and people are waiting on us.”

Raymond pulled a face but gave in to her logic and Jean’s guiding hand.

Adèle wished, not for the first time, that she could find a way out of the weekly dinners, but work had not cooperated this week, and with no case to use an excuse, she had given into the guilt she felt at brushing off Raymond’s concern. They had all seen the grief that had overtaken Blair Nichols, the one vampire she knew of who had lost his partner during the war, after Laurent Copé’s death. Their partnership had been more like Raymond and Jean’s or Thierry and Sebastien’s, a true match of hearts and spirits that would have developed into a formidable bond if Laurent had not died in one of Serrier’s attacks. She had lost sight of Blair after the war ended, making her wonder if Raymond importuned the vampire the same way or if Jean had reined his partner in on that score.

“I worry about you,” Raymond said as they took their seats at the head table where Raymond always insisted Adèle sit. She might not be on the faculty at l’Institut, but she was a veteran of l’émeutte des Sorciers like Raymond and the others on the staff, not to mention their friend. “Are you well?”

“I’m fine,” Adèle said as she did every week. She suspected it would be easier on Raymond if she was pining away from Leighton’s loss. He would understand that emotion because it would be his own reaction if anything ever happened to Jean. She shuddered to think of that. She might have hated her own partner, but she recognized the devotion between the partners around her. “Are Alain and Orlando here tonight?”

It was a diversionary tactic, but it worked. “They should be, although they said they’d probably be late. They’re in Paris at a meeting,” Raymond said. “Did you need them for something?”

“No,” Adèle said. “I just hadn’t seen them in a couple of weeks. You’re not the only one who likes to keep up with his friends.”

Raymond flushed. “Am I really that intolerable?”

“I know you want what’s best for me,” Adèle replied. Now if they could only agree on what that was. Raymond wanted her to find another partner, or rather, the researcher in him wanted to know if it was possible for a wizard who had lost her partner to find another one. “So did you have any matches this week?”

“None,” Raymond said with a frustrated grimace. “More weeks than not, we don’t. It seemed so easy that first morning at the gare de Lyon. Not the meeting itself—that was incredibly awkward—but the partnerships. I don’t understand why we have so little success now.”

“A smaller pool to choose from, for one thing,” Adèle suggested. “Ten wizards and vampires a week instead of the four hundred people we gathered at the gare de Lyon. And not all of the wizards and vampires each week choose to try for a partnership. Even those who do decide to try but don’t meet a partner leave with good intentions of coming back to try again in subsequent weeks, but you know most of them get busy with their lives and forget as many weeks as they remember. Without the pressure of the war to add urgency to the mix, people put it off. Or maybe they change their minds once they’re away and have time to reflect. If we’d known then what we know now, I probably wouldn’t have let Jude feed from me that first time.”

“Really?” Raymond asked.

“Okay, maybe I would have because of the war,” Adèle admitted, “but Jude and I rubbed each other the wrong way from the moment we first spoke. He looked at the bite marks on my arm and judged me for it even though he knew why they were there. He never stopped judging me.” Out of habit, she ran her fingers across the upper swell of her left breast where even now, she bore the scars of his fangs. Realizing what she was doing, she jerked her hand away quickly, hoping Raymond had not noticed. She had healed the other marks he left on her body, but she kept the one set of scars as a reminder of the mistake she had made once so she would not make it again.
Sebastien Noyer, Thierry’s partner, joined them at the table before Raymond could reply to that, his hand trailing across the back of Thierry’s neck as he passed. Adèle smiled at the open gesture of affection between the two men. She knew partnerships could be positive and productive. She had only to look at Sebastien and Thierry or Jean and Raymond to see it. Unfortunately, her own partnership had been nothing but a nightmare.

“Bonsoir, Sebastien,” she said, drawing Sebastien’s attention from his partner to the social niceties he had ignored in favor of greeting the lover he had left perhaps ten minutes earlier.

“Adèle, I didn’t see you come in,” Sebastien said, greeting her as Thierry had done.

“I just arrived a few minutes ago,” she said.

“You’re late tonight,” Sebastien teased. “Did a case keep you?”

“Paperwork,” Adèle said. It was even mostly true. She could have done it earlier in the day, but she had been working on it at the time she normally would have left to come to dinner.

“You work too hard,” Raymond said, drawing a snort of disbelief from Adèle. That was a case of the pot calling the kettle black if ever there was one. “You need someone to make you relax.”

“I don’t need anyone to make me do anything,” Adèle retorted, hackles rising. “It was that kind of condescending attitude that made me hate Leighton so much. I didn’t take it from him, even if I understood where his attitude came from. I’m certainly not going to take it from you!”

A reverent murmur went through the room, forestalling the rest of Adèle’s rant, although from Raymond’s contrite look, he would have apologized before it went any further. Alain Magnier and Orlando St. Clair had arrived. To Adèle, they were friends, fellow veterans, and more proof of how good a partnership could be, but she had spent enough time around vampires not involved in l’émeutte des Sorciers to know how they were viewed by the wider vampire community. The brand on Alain’s neck, proof of a different kind of bond, set them apart and gave Orlando near mythical standing within vampire society. As striking as they were together, Orlando dark and slender, Alain fair and broader through the shoulders, Adèle suspected they would turn heads even if they did not have the Aveu de Sang to set them apart.
When they reached the head table, they greeted everyone, ending with Adèle, before taking their seats. “How did the meeting with Anne-Marie go?”

“She said to tell you that you could have your job back whenever you wanted it,” Alain said with a grin.

“Oh, no,” Raymond said. “I served my time as president of l’ANS. That’s her problem now.”

They all laughed, Adèle included. L’Association Nationale de Sorcellerie, the non-profit organization that campaigned for the rights of all magical beings, had fallen into Raymond’s hands at the retirement of the previous president, Marcel Chavinier. Raymond had, in turn, retired from the post with the opening of l’Institut six months earlier. Anne-Marie Valour, his successor, was doing a good job from what Adèle could see, but she tried to give Raymond the job back at least once a month.
3 comments or Leave a comment
nverland From: nverland Date: October 3rd, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
*Happy dance*
On the list for payday and moving present to self
taelyn_sass From: taelyn_sass Date: October 3rd, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
txdville From: txdville Date: October 5th, 2011 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)
3 comments or Leave a comment