by Grace G.

Author's note: I'd like to dedicate this to Angel A., whose twisted little mind planted the seed for Strawberries as soon as she read my previous work. This never would have been started, labored over, and finished if it hadn't been for her and her (semi) constant poking. As a footnote, the character of Renee is loosely based on her.  

           Alexander Lucard was sitting in his air-conditioned Mercedes limo drumming his manicured fingers against the armrest. His chef was away on vacation and he was craving strawberries with a passion, yet none of the grocers his secretary contacted had any. They were sold out almost as soon as they came in, they each said.
           This is insufferable Alexander thought angrily. He closed his eyes and rested his blond head against the leather headrest. I would crave them when I can't have them. He then smiled in spite of himself. But that can be said of so many things. He opened his eyes and watched the buildings pass by. He sighed. One of the wealthiest and most powerful men this world has ever seen, and I can't manage to get one damn strawberry!
           The limo pulled up to a stop light and Alexander glanced toward a sidewalk café. Just as he was about to turn his attention elsewhere, he spied a couple walking out to one of the outside tables carrying strawberry shortcakes.
           Alexander bolted upright just as the car pulled away. "Driver! Take me to the little café that we just passed--immediately!" The driver, one of his better zombies, obeyed quickly.
           As they pulled into the parking lot, Alexander leapt out of the shiny black car and practically sprinted to the café. As he walked past the tables, he quickly resumed his cool exterior. All this trouble for a few strawberries, he thought to himself as he unconsciously ran his hand over his hair, making sure every strand was in place.
           He walked to the counter, where a lovely young dark-haired woman with chocolate eyes stood at the cash register. He smiled, already picturing himself eating the sweet fruit, and leaned over the counter.
           "Hello. I was wondering if your fine café serves strawberry desserts?"
           The girl returned his smile--it was hard not to as he was quite possibly the most handsome man she had ever seen. And his accent was so... unique.
           "Yes, sir, we do."
           "Unfortunately, we've just sold the last we had for today. It seems that everyone can't get enough of our strawberry dishes. I am sorry, sir."
           Alexander stood there dumbstruck. He couldn't believe his luck. "How can every fruit stand and grocer be sold out, let alone a little café?" He sighed, and then noticed the girl looking at him sympathetically.
           He also noticed her creamy white neck.
           "Renee," he rolled the r and smiled when he saw the woman fall deeper under his spell. "My name is Alexander."
           "Like the conqueror?"
           "Very much so."
           "Alexander..." she whispered to herself, enjoying the sound of his name on her tongue.
           "Yes. Can you tell me when your café will have strawberries again? You see, I've been craving them all day and I simply won't be able to rest until I have them."
           Renee smiled broadly. "We will have a shipment tomorrow morning. If you would like, I can have them delivered as soon as they come in."
           Alexander smiled. At last--progress! he thought. "I would like that very much. Please have one pound delivered to the castle on the hill."
           Renee's hand, which was writing down the order, stilled, and her brown eyes grew large. "The castle on the hill is yours, sir?" She couldn't believe it--handsome and wealthy!
           Alexander leaned forward. He knew this young woman was very taken with him (and why not?), so he didn't see the harm in taking advantage of the situation. "Yes, my dear, the castle is mine."
           He picked up her hand from the notepad she was writing on and ran his thumb over her palm, looking into her eyes mischievously.
           "Alexander, remember?" When she nodded wordlessly, he decided to press on. "You will be bringing them over, won't you?"
           She nodded briefly. She couldn't believe this was happening. "As soon as they come in," she said breathlessly.
           He kissed her hand slowly, his vampiric senses making the normally faint sound of her heart racing echo like thunder in his ears.
           "Are you working tomorrow?"
           "No," she whispered.
           "I don't want to inconvenience you in any way."
           "It's not. At all."
           "Good. Perhaps I can make the trip... how shall I put this... worth your while?" He flashed that smile again. She was his.
           "As soon as we get them... Alexander... I'll be there." As she was drawn into the blue-grey depths of his eyes, she sighed as she lost a small part of herself to this man.
           Alexander squeezed her hand and slowly withdrew his hand, letting his fingers caress hers as they pulled away. "Until tomorrow, Renee. I shall be awaiting you. Eagerly."
           Alexander walked out of the café, acutely aware that Renee was watching him leave. He smiled. He'd be getting his strawberries and a diversion in the process. This day was working out after all.
           Renee smiled as she watched his lean long frame exit the café. She couldn't say a word--he had left her utterly speechless. Spending a day with the handsome and wealthy Alexander! Imagine!
           She sighed as her friends surrounded her.  

           Three hours later Renee stood over her small bed with three outfits laid out before her. She was about to settle on her smart denim outfit when her phone rang.
           "Renee, it's Jayne. The strawberries just came in!"
           "Already? I told Alexander they'd come in tomorrow. Should I wait for tomorrow morning or call him and tell him they're in?"
           "Call him! He said he wanted the strawberries as soon as they came in. Think of how happy he'll be when you deliver them. He may even invite you in to share them with him."
           "How do you figure?" Renee asked, as though that very thought hadn't raced through her mind a thousand times since he left her in the café.
           "Oh, come on!" Jayne exclaimed, on to Renee's 'innocence' bit. "It's eight o'clock--what a romantic evening snack! You and him in front of a fireplace..."
           "How do you know there's a fireplace?"
           "It's an ancient castle, therefore extremely drafty. There's got to be lots of fireplaces. Anyways, you and Alexander, cuddled up in front of a fireplace eating strawberries and cream from one dish..."
           "He might want strawberry shortcake."
           "Geez, work with me, will ya?"
           "Anyways, you can't lose!"
           "You're right. I'll call him.
           "And call me as soon as possible with full details!"
           Renee hung up the phone and ruled out the denim outfit, as well as the white one, which left the final outfit: her flowy maroon slacks and a beige sweater that barely reached her waist.
           She sat down on her bed and sighed, then paused only slightly before picking up the phone and dialing.  

           Alexander sat in the great hall mentally going over notes for tomorrow. He called his secretary and instructed her to reschedule or cancel all appointments for tomorrow. He had his black turtleneck and slacks set aside--he had a sparse selection of "casualwear" considering the size of his overall wardrobe, but he was a man who preferred formalwear in all aspects of his life.
           He was wearing the turtleneck, slacks, and blazer (he had to have some semblance of formality) to put Renee at ease. He thought that a suit, let alone a tuxedo, would make her uncomfortable. She might want to leave early, and he couldn't have that.
           He smiled to himself as, in the distance, the phone rang. She was delivering his strawberries in the morning, but she still had to be there when the sun set, which boiled down to a lengthy, but extremely pleasurable, diversion.
           As a zombie came up to him with a portable phone, Alexander absently wondered if she had the stamina for what he had in mind.
           "Lucard here."
           "Mr. Lucard? This is Renee"
           Alexander smiled again. "Renee, I was just thinking about you."
           Renee swallowed and felt her face flush. "You were?"
             "Yes, my dear. And they were lovely thoughts indeed. But what were you calling for? Surely not to check up on what I was thinking?"
           "Oh, er, no. I got a call from a friend at the café. The strawberries came in early. I wanted to know if you still wanted them in the morning or if you would like for me to deliver them tonight."
           Perfect Alexander thought. "How about in an hour? I can have my limousine pick you up."
           "That'd be perfect."
           "Perfect. I'll be waiting. See you in an hour." Alexander listened to the dial tone for a few seconds before finally hanging up. Everything was working out better than he anticipated. Both his strawberries and a meal tonight.
           He almost glided up the stairs towards his dressing chambers. He had to get ready for tonight...  

           Renee was in her room touching up her lips as there was a knock on her door. Thankfully her creamy completion didn't require makeup, only lipcolor. She smiled at her reflection, then headed for the door. A dull eyed man with slightly messed up hair was on the other side. "Miss Renee. Mr. Lucard's limousine awaits you."
           Renee smiled, shut the door to her apartment, and bounded down the stairs.  

           The café was closing as they pulled up.
           Jayne was waiting by the counter with one pound of perfect, red strawberries. Renee hugged her as she picked them up, and then quickly left.
           As Jayne watched the limo pull out, Jenna the cook came around. "Jayne, why are you so sad?"
           Jayne shrugged. "I'm happy and sad."
           "But why?"
           "Because I just have the feeling that Renee's life, as she knows it, is over."
           Jenna nodded and watched as Jayne picked up a phone and started dialing.  

           The limo pulled into the castle's courtyard. As soon as Renee stepped out of the long automobile, the main doors swung open and a butler in full livery awaited on the other side. Renee found that she had to suppress a giggle as she passed the butler, who lead her to the main hall. She wondered if he was related to the chauffeur--they had the same wild hair and dull, blank stare.
           From the hall she was directed to a small (by castle standards) cozy room lined with books from ceiling to floor. There were leather chairs that looked so supple she imagined that one could melt in them.
           There was a large sofa made of the same leather, and small mahogany end tables with intricately carved designs flanking each end. Renee turned to give the butler the strawberries, but he had disappeared, so she put them on one of the small tables and then went to look at the volumes.
           She was engrossed in a leather bound notebook when the soft click of a door shutting drew her out of her reverie. She looked up and saw Alexander stoking the crackling fire in the marble fireplace that filled an entire wall.
           "You looked so engrossed in that book I didn't want to disturb you," he said as he straightened. "Unfortunately, it looks as though I did."
           "This collection is amazing. This manuscript is inscribed by William Shakespeare himself, isn't it?"
           "Yes. He was good friends with... my ancestor, Vlad. Actually, this is merely a very small assortment from my main library. My personal favorites are in this room. I love this setting. I can relax and get lost in these books, away from the never ending hassles of the real world.
           Alexander strolled up to Renee, who was looking up at the books admiringly. "What are you thinking?" he whispered in her ear.
            "Just that it would take a life time to read all of these books."
           Alexander nodded, "Yes, it would," and then headed to the door, avoiding Renee's puzzled look. Just as he reached the door, there was a knock. Alexander opened the door and a servant stood there with a silver tray, upon which rested a crystal dish filled with strawberries and cream.
           "Are they related--the chauffeur, butler, and this servant?" Renee asked, noticing the servant's wild hair and vacant look.
           "Yes, you can say that." Alexander smiled as he relieved the servant of the dish. He said nothing else in response to Renee's arched brow. She'll find out soon enough, he thought.
           He motioned to the plush leather sofa with one perfectly manicured hand. "Please, make yourself comfortable."
           She sat down and relished the feel of the sofa--it was incredibly soft and plump. Lucard sat down next to her. Renee found his closeness intoxicating.
           Alexander held the dish of strawberries in one hand and freed one from the cream. He held it out to her lips and smiled as she took a bite. He then dipped the strawberry and placed it on his tongue. He chewed it slowly, closing his eyes as he savored its sweetness.
           He pulled another strawberry from the cream and bit into it. He held it out and as Renee's mouth closed on the sweet fruit, her lips kissed his fingertips.
           Alexander put the dish down and pulled Renee closer to him. She tilted her face up to his and he kissed her gently at first, then a little harder. Her lips parted under his.
           Her hands moved against his chest, taking in the firmness of his flesh. As their kiss grew deeper, she absently noted the lack of a heartbeat.
           Alexander's kisses moved from her lips to her cheek, to her throat. Renee moaned as he began nibbling on her neck.
           Her moans turned to a gasp as Alexander's fangs broke into her jugular.
           He held her body with one hand and her head with the other. She rested her cheek against the blond silk of his hair. She was barely aware of what was happening to her. She only knew bliss. She could hear his thoughts, almost as though he were whispering them to her.
           Renee began to feel faint. Her head slid from Alexander's hair and she didn't have the strength to hold it back up. Everything was becoming dim around her, and she could no longer hear the crackling fire before them.
           Just then a commotion from the main hall drew Alexander from Renee's vein. She was extremely weak, dancing on the edge of death, and Alexander wanted to relieve her of the few remaining pints of blood within her, but he felt three of his zombie servants get destroyed, so he gently put her down.
           As he cleared the sofa, the door to the reading room burst open. He spun around, propelled by the force of the stake that was now embedded in his shoulder, and screamed as his blood sprayed before him and the pain of the holy water marinated stake burned into his body. He slumped to the floor, just barely missing hitting his head on the back of the sofa, and saw Sophie and Max in the doorway. Sophie had a new-looking crossbow in one hand and a bottle of what could only be holy water in the other. Max had a cross and two extra stakes, as well as his backpack of God-only-knew what else.
           "So, to what do I owe this dubious pleasure?" Alexander gasped.
           "Where is Renee, Lucard?" Sophie said forcefully. "We know she's here."
           "I see." Alexander tried to stand up, but the pain in his shoulder flared and he almost fell over. "And just how do you know she's here?" He gulped back the nausea that was starting to engulf him. "Nice attitude, by the way. What did you do, Sophie, listen to the Spice Girls CD over and over again until their 'Girl Power' mantra burned into your skull?"
           "Oh, and yours is nice."
           "Thank you. Pain does that to me."
           "Don't worry, you won't be in pain much longer."
           "I don't think by that you mean you'd be good enough to remove this stake."
           "Sorry, no. That would make all this rather pointless."
           "But it'd be a good faith gesture."
           "Which would be wasted on you. You'd kill us as soon as you got better."
           "Too true. But you never said how you knew I had Renee here, or why you even care."
           "I have a friend who's sister works with her at thecafé. And face it, a date with a handsome billionaire is phone worthy news."
           "And you care because..."
           "She's a human being, and I want to make sure she stays that way."
           Alexander tried to stand up, but fell to one knee. Max stood guard as Sophie advanced on Alexander.
           "So where are Uncle Gustav and Big Brother Chris? I can't believe they'd miss the chance to see me destroyed."
           "They're visiting an uncle a couple of towns over," Max offered. Sophie shot him a dirty look before continuing to advance on Alexander. She stopped when she was about four feet away from him. She slipped another stake into the crossbow and then raised it. "Time's up, Alexander."
           "Sophie--look!" Max exclaimed.
           Sophie refused, knowing that even in Lucard's weakened state he would still fight, and more viciously. She took aim.
           Growls erupted from behind her and Max cried out.
           There were about fifteen wolves in the room, and more in the hall. Their muzzles dripped white foam and their eyes burned yellow as they advanced on Max and Sophie.
           Sophie immediately forgot Alexander and focused on Max, who was as white as a ghost.
           Alexander, feeling hot and feverish from the holy water in his flesh, simply laughed.
           "Call them off, Lucard." Sophie was more than worried.
           "But my dear, I didn't summon them." Alexander was definitely feverish.
           "Then who is doing this?" Max tried not to sound frantic, but he was scared and was wishing Gustav was here to guide them.
           The wolves smelled their fear and circled them.
           Alexander half-sat half-reclined on the back of the sofa and mentally noted that the blood would have to be cleaned off it. "Do you really want to find out? My dear, I really think you should try to get away now, before whomever is commanding these wolves decides not to let them play with their dinner."
           "Deal. But how?"
           Alexander grimaced, then howled as he yanked the stake out. The wolves howled with him.
           "You and your friends are so resourceful in finding ways in. Figure out a way out."
           The wolves all stopped growing and immediately stepped aside, clearing a path for Sophie and Max, taking them both and Alexander by surprise.
           "Until next time we meet, Lucard," Sophie said just before she and Max ran through the gauntlet of wolves.
           "Aw, only fifteen and already sounding like dowdy old Uncle Gustav." Alexander put his handkerchief to his wound as he watched the two youths run away. "Very well, Sophie," he said to himself. "Until we meet again."
           Only the sounds of their rapid footfalls fading assured Alexander that they were indeed gone.
           He then looked to the lap of the sofa, where the still form of Renee lay.
           Her eyes flew open. "Yes, master."
           "You summoned the wolves."
           "Yes, master."
           "Excellent work. Only a vampire a few minutes and already you are utilizing your powers."   He bent down to wipe his partially dried blood from her face. She was fairly well splattered, with the bulk of the blood around her mouth.   "And in such wonderful fashion," he murmured. "I am impressed."
           "Thank you, master." She noticed Alexander favoring his left side considerably. "Are you going to be all right, sir?"
           "Alexander, Renee--call me Alexander. Yes, my dear Renee, I shall be all right. The holy water is hindering my self-recuperating powers, but only slightly. I shall be back to my old self in a matter of hours."
           "Good." Renee stepped up to Alexander. "When you drank from me, Alexander, I felt your thoughts." She started to remove his blood soaked shirt, revealing a slightly perspiring and well developed upper torso. "Perhaps, Alexander, once you are back to your 'old self', you can show me this 'lengthy but highly pleasurable diversion' that you were going to spring on me tomorrow?" Renee leaned forward to lap up a small trickle of blood that came from what was now a tiny puncture wound.
           Her fangs were fully extended.
           Alexander smiled and bared his fangs as well.
           "Count on it." He chuckled at his little pun as he held Renee to the puncture wound. "Tell me, my dear. Who will your first kill be?"
           Renee looked up as she finished the last of the trickling blood--his wound now completely closed. "I thought I'd pay my friend Jayne a visit. She did say she wanted full details, after all."
           "Well, my dear, we shan't disappoint her."
           His laughter filled the hall as he and Renee turned into bats and flew into the star filled night.


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