Title: Heart's Price
The Haven was crowded when Frank arrived, parking his car well away from the building so as not to stand out against the higher-class vehicles. A nervous shiver ran down his spine when he spotted Julian’s black Jag parked near the door. A few of the regulars stood outside talking, and waved as he approached. Frank waved back distractedly, trying not to focus on the fact that the doorman didn’t even eye him distastefully anymore.
Trying to keep a low profile, Frank kept to the edge of the room as he entered the club, eyes scanning the crowd. He wasn’t sure what he’d hoped to accomplish by coming. On one hand, he wanted to see Julian. It had been several days since their last encounter, and work had prevented him from stopping by the Haven. On the other hand…he felt embarrassed. How would Julian react to seeing him? Since they were in public, would it be the same as always, or would the Prince expect something more? Did he want to announce it to the other Kindred so openly, or had he told them already? Swallowing thickly past the lump in his throat, he almost didn’t hear Lillie calling his name from across the room.
She was dressed beautifully as always, but this time her slinky dress and seductive smile didn’t so much as make him blink. Rather, it was the Kindred at her side that snared his attention. Julian was there, his dark hair gleaming in the flickering lights from the stage. A half-filled wineglass was clutched in his left hand, but his attention was focused on Frank. Aware that he probably looked like a star-struck fool, Frank shook his head and approached, trying to keep from running to the table. Cash had pulled up a chair near Lily so he could watch the crowds, and he was wearing a knowing smirk as Frank approached.
“Hi,” Frank said lamely, directing it to no one in particular.
“Detective Kahonek. Why don’t you join us for a change?” Lillie invited, waving to the seat across from her and Julian.
“Sure. Uh…thanks,” he said, sliding stiffly into the seat. His eyes kept flicking to the man next to her, and he could feel the Prince’s heavy gaze locked onto him.
“I heard they’ve been keeping you busy these last few days,” Julian said suddenly, and Frank jerked, his eyes unconsciously locking on the Prince’s.
“Yeah. Department’s decided we need a new filing system. We’ve all been stuck plowing through three years worth of paperwork.”
“No new exciting cases, then?”
“Nah. Why? Has something come up?”
“No, not yet. I have been warned that there might be some unpleasantness heading our way, however.”
“Ah. Well, I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open.”
“Thank you, Frank,” Julian said. They fell silent, each unerringly finding their gaze drawn to the other. Lillie flicked her eyes between the two men, a tiny wrinkle between her brows betraying her confusion.
“Has…something occurred that I should know about?” she asked softly. Julian and Frank both flushed, drawing back into their seats. Frank took to toying with the unlit candle centerpiece, rolling the object between his hands, while Julian casually sipped his wine with far more attention than called for. Cash’s reaction, however, was the most intriguing. He burst into loud, raucous laughter.
“I knew it. I am missing out on something here. How is it, Julian, that both Cash and Frank are aware of something that I am not?” Lillie turned, fixing the Prince with the full force of her glare. Julian blinked, his expression priceless. Frank sighed, and dropped his head into his hands.
“How is it that the existence of an entire species can be kept secret for thousands of years, but an entire city suddenly can tell when two people have kissed? How does that make any sense?” Frank blurted, shaking his head. Beside them, Cash broke into a renewed fit of laughter. Lillie looked utterly gob smacked. Then, she grinned.
“At last! I was wondering when you two would get over your male egos and take action,” Lillie said, and, smirking, leaned back in her seat.
“Wait…how did you know we liked each other? Hell, even I didn’t know,” Frank demanded, affronted despite himself.
“A Toreador knows these things. And besides…you couldn’t stop talking about each other, even though you probably didn’t realize it.”
“And after tonight, it’s likely that every Kindred here will have guessed that something is going on between you two. Everyone’s noticed that something’s changed,” Cash said, wiping red tinged tears of laughter from his eyes. The four looked out into the club, noticing for the first time that more than a few heads kept turning their way, watching them with poorly disguised curiosity.
“Well, fuck it then,” Frank grumbled, and then sat up straight in his seat, running a nervous hand through his shaggy hair. “Julian…would you allow me to treat you to dinner tomorrow night? My place?” Frank said, and then cleared his throat self-consciously. Cash and Lillie were watching expectantly.
Julian grinned, and, taking Frank’s hand discreetly across the table, said, “It would be my pleasure.”
Straightening his jacket, Julian paused on the steps to Frank’s front door. Rather than driving and possibly arousing questions among the members of the staff that did not yet know of his new relationship with the detective, he’d chosen to take wing and fly in hawk form. It had also given him ample time to calm his frazzled nerves.
Nerves… Julian laughed at himself. He was acting quite pathetic, really. It had been a very long time since he felt so out of control of himself. Though he’d had many lovers over the years, most had been mere pursuits of passion…the result of two lonely people desperate for the closeness of another person. Rarely, however, had anyone tugged on his heart so powerfully. He still could not fully comprehend how Frank Kahonek had come to be such a person. It was true that he had taken an immediate liking to the detective. He was smart, witty, charming in his own rugged way…and stubborn as a mule. His loyalty to his friends and his career was awe inspiring.
At first Julian had thought of Frank as a mere curiosity…a human who knew the Kindred’s secret, and yet neither feared them nor hated them. He’d thrown himself into their midst with the same zeal that he approached each of his cases. Before Julian had realized it, Frank had become a trusted friend. He’d come to enjoy the mortal’s company…his unique perspective on Kindred affairs, his often crass humor, the startling insight which made him such a formidable detective. Soon, Frank had begun to seek him out of his own volition, and not always for business purposes. Frequently they’d simply met at the diner to share a cup of coffee, or chatted amiably while they mingled at the Haven. He hadn’t thought anything of it until Daedalus had commented one day on the amount of time he spent in the mortal’s company. From there, Julian had quickly realized that there was more to his interest in the detective than camaraderie. The times he’d found himself searching for an excuse to brush against the other man as they walked, or to touch his fingers as a wine glass was passed, the desperate desire to seek out the man’s presence, to hear his voice, to touch him, were explainable only by a slowly nurtured love for the man. And now…it was far too late to turn back. Even now, it took only a second’s imagining to feel the detective’s warm lips on his own, his lean body pressed flush to his….
Julian shook his head to clear it. Soon enough he would relive the sensation again. There was no use in lingering on the doorstep out of nervousness. Steeling himself, the Prince rang the doorbell, nostrils flaring as the scent of fresh bread and tomato sauce wafted from beyond the door. The sound of a pan being hastily dropped shattered the silence of the darkening evening, and soon the multiple locks on the door clicked undone.
Frank stood in the doorway, his mouth dropped open in mild surprise. A dishtowel was thrown haphazardly over one shoulder, and though he wore his trademark blue-jeans, he wore a rich burgundy dress shirt. His hair, still damp from a shower, curled against his cheeks and smelled mildly of soap. The urge to reach out and tuck the damp curls behind the man’s ears was difficult to resist. Julian was secretly glad that Frank had allowed his hair to grow longer…it gave his face an exotic look that suited him very well.
“You seem surprised to see me,” Julian said, and Frank flushed, before opening the door wide to let the other man in.
“Just surprised that you used the front door,” Frank said, smirking.
“Well, some things are just tradition,” Julian replied, then brazenly stepped forward, sliding one arm around the shorter man’s waist. Frank stared at him with wide eyes, though his held tilted up unconsciously, expectantly. “And I’ve been waiting to do this all week,” he said, and then lowered his head to make a new memory of those lips. Frank responded eagerly, his hands sliding up around Julian’s neck to pull the man in deeper. Julian forced himself to pull back when he felt the first faint stirring of hunger in his veins. Frank seemed to sense his problem, and released him.
“Dinner first?” Frank offered, closing the door behind his guest. Julian paused on the threshold to take in the modest home anew. It was much cleaner than the last time he’d visited. The dark wood surfaces were shining and smelled of polish. The carpet was vacuumed and the windows gleamed, the faint scent of vinegar lingering in the air. The piles of paperwork, books, and old take out bags were nowhere to be seen. And the kitchen…the kitchen shined. For a man who proclaimed practically zero skill as a housekeeper, it was quite impressive.
“The place looks good, Frank. You know you didn’t have to go to so much trouble.”
“Yeah, well. I figured you’d seen the place at its worst…in the midst of a case with my work strewn everywhere. Figured you should see it at its best, too. And…well, I didn’t want to embarrass you with my poor housekeeping skills,” Frank said, pausing to toss the towel over a dish drainer by the sink.
“Frank, you are who you are. I like you, housekeeping skills and all. It does not matter what anyone else thinks,” Julian said, then drew his left hand out of the folds of his coat, where’d he’d been hiding his own contribution to the meal. “I thought you might enjoy this,” he said, holding forth the tall, green wine bottle he’d been saving for a special occasion. It was one of the finest in his collection.
“Julian, that looks expensive! I’m no wine connoisseur, you shouldn’t waste that on me,” Frank protested, eyes wide as he took the bottle and eyed the date on the label. Julian merely replied by taking the bottle back and popping the cork bare-handed and pouring the wine into two glasses which sat waiting on the counter.
“I was saving it for a special occasion. And to me, this qualifies. Besides, what is the point of collecting fine wines if one can never enjoy them? It brings me pleasure to share them with those I care about,” Julian said, passing a glass of the rich, red wine to the startled detective. Smirking, Julian gave in to the urge and tucked an errant curl behind the detective’s ear. “And besides…I have plenty of time to teach you how to appreciate a good wine.”
“A beer-drinking joe like me? I hope you have the patience of a saint,” Frank retorted.
“Now, what is that fantastic smell lingering in the air? I admit to a certain curiosity to what you, a self-proclaimed microwave man, have been slaving away at.”
“Hey, I never said I couldn’t cook. Just don’t see the point in doing it just for myself,” Frank said, feigning injury. “Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll do the honors?” he said, casually shooing Julian toward the tiny dining nook. Julian complied with a smile, noting the detective’s valiant effort at table-setting. There was no table cloth, but the dishes were clean and a few votive candles sat flickering as a centerpiece. The silverware hadn’t been laid in the appropriate order, but the silver gleamed as if it had been painstakingly polished. Sitting in the far chair so he could watch the other man, Julian draped his coat over the back of the chair and sipped at his wine.
The detective soon pulled a surprising number of dishes from the oven, where it appeared they had sat warming. First a basket of French bread was placed in the center of the table, then two small soup bowls into which Frank ladled a thick, spicy soup. What was unmistakably chicken parmesan sat waiting on the counter, and…was that tiramisu? Blinking in surprise, Julian couldn’t help but stare with new eyes at his companion as the man slipped into the seat across from him. Frank was undoubtedly a man of hidden talents.
“You were not joking when you said you could cook,” he prodded. The detective shrugged.
“My mother worked as a chef for a while when I was a kid. She made sure I could cook and sew enough to get by.”
“I would say this is more than enough to get by. Only you, Frank, could blast a Kindred out of a window one moment, and fix Tiramisu the next, with equal nonchalance,” Julian said, pleased by the embarrassed flush that rose in the other man’s cheeks.
Taking pity on him, Julian turned his attention to the meal that had no doubt taken hours to prepare. He was surprised that every dish was delicious and expertly seasoned, not at all the expected work of a bachelor. Though he knew Frank lacked the trained palate of a wine connoisseur, Julian could tell that he enjoyed the wine. After the Tiramisu, they moved to the leather couch and finished the bottle together, talking about nothing important at all and enjoying every moment.
The crime scene was still fresh when Frank arrived. His shift hadn’t even officially started yet when he’d been called and told of the murder, and that Sonny would meet him there. That in itself was not entirely unusual…but a crime scene was certainly not how Frank had wanted to begin his day.
Sonny was locking his car (a blue Nissan Sentra…nice and nondescript) when Frank pulled up beside him. The park that stretched out beyond the cars, the access routes already cordoned off by yellow tape, was swarming with onlookers, mostly joggers out for an evening run. A TV crew had parked itself near the police tape, the reporters and camera men hurriedly preparing their equipment.
“Heya, Sonny,” Frank called, jogging to catch up to the Kindred. The other man gave him a grim smile.
“Hey, Frank. What a way to start a shift, huh?” Sonny said, and then paused, brows crinkling as he stared at something near Frank’s neck. “Is that…a hickey?” Sonny asked, nearly snorting with laughter.
“Wha--? Oh, shit!” Frank muttered, hurriedly buttoning the top few buttons of his shirt to hide the bruise-like mark near his collar bone. Though the Prince hadn’t yet attempted to bite him (for which Frank was thankful…the idea still made him squeamish), the Kindred had spent a good deal of time with his mouth fixed to Frank’s throat. Though neither Frank nor Julian wanted to rush, they had begun a slow, almost worshipful exploration of one another. By the time the Prince had left (only just before dawn, actually) both had shirts un-tucked and hair mussed. The mere memory of Julian’s hands on his bare flesh sent heat rushing toward Frank’s groin. He hurriedly shook his head free of the thoughts lest Sonny note something even more embarrassing than a love bite.
“Date with Julian went well, I take it?” Sonny asked casually, beginning to walk toward the yellow tape. Eyeing his partner for any sign of teasing, Frank matched his stride to the other man’s.
“Yeah, it was good. Made him dinner, and we talked quite a bit,” Frank replied cautiously. Ever since Sonny had smelled Julian on Frank, he had taken every opportunity to tease Frank about it. Any time the name Julian or Luna popped up, Sonny would turn to him and very deliberately, wink. He’d also begun prodding Frank for updates, which Frank suspected was Sonny’s way of dealing with the unusual situation. For his part, Frank tried to act as cool and casual about it as he could, even though he was alternately jumping up and down like a giddy child, and ducking his head between his legs while screaming in pure frustration.
Though he wasn’t having second thoughts (hell no!), he couldn’t help but feel as if his own mind and body had betrayed him. For a moment, while his body had been otherwise distracted, his mind had taken a step back from the situation and wondered what the hell he was doing. It was if, in his mind’s eye, the image of he and Julian just didn’t fit together. Cop and Prince, Kindred and mortal…man and man…there were so many reasons that they shouldn’t be together. Frank supposed some of it could be put down to his own feelings of self worth (after all, what would a handsome, powerful, rich, and, yes, seductive man like Julian Luna want with lowly Frank Kahonek, homicide detective?), but the feeling kept nagging at him.
“Just talked?” Sonny prodded, flashing him the teasing grin Frank was really, really beginning to loathe.
“You already saw the evidence. You want a blow by blow or what?” Frank growled.
“Did he…you know…” Sonny asked, baring his teeth briefly in a parody.
“No, Sonny. Said he wants it to be special when he tastes me. What is it with you anyway? Most guys are obsessed with sex; does the whole biting thing do it for you or what?” Frank said, snapping the last. Sonny jerked back, the hue of his dark cheeks suddenly tinged briefly with pink.
“Ah…yeah, you could say that. I mean, of course Kindred still enjoy the sex…but the tasting…it’s kind of the cherry on top, you know? The first time you taste a lover…it’s like getting to know them anew. It’s hard to describe, but…it’s like you known every inch of them…every thought, feeling, passion…you’ll see what I mean.”
Frank stalled. They were near the cluster of cops and flashing bulbs that identified the location of the victim, and he didn’t want to finish their conversation where uninitiated ears could hear. “Wait…what do you mean I’ll see? It’s not just the Kindred that feels all that?”
Sonny grinned. “Nope. It’s two way,” Sonny said. Frank blinked, raising his hand to the hidden mark on his throat.
“Damn,” he said simply as they began to approach the crowd again.
“That about sums it up.”
The cops shifted out of the way as Sonny flashed his badge, coming to a stop beside a forensic scientist who crouched snapping pictures. Frank stepped up beside him and froze, eyes locked on the victim’s throat. “Shit,” Frank muttered. Sonny was already reaching for his cell phone. Someone picked up the line after the first ring.
“It’s Sonny. I need to speak to Julian…it’s urgent.” It took only a moment for whoever had picked up to find him, for Sonny had barely stopped speaking when he began again. “Frank and I are at a crime scene. Yes. This one smells like Malkavian. I’ll let him know.” Sonny hung up and slid the phone in his pocket, turning to stare at the body apprehensively. Frank stood and waited for him to talk.
“Julian wants you at the meeting this evening, as it concerns this case,” he said, sounding worried.
“I’ll be there. What’s wrong, though? This isn’t the first Kindred related crime we’ve dealt with,” Frank said, turning to study the body again as if to discover the reason for his partner’s sudden apprehension.
“I don’t know, exactly. I just have a very bad feeling about this one.”
The room in Julian’s mansion that served as a meeting place for the Kindred leaders of
“What business is it, my Prince, that requires the presence of this kine?” the man asked, his cool blue eyes turned to glare at Frank. Frank merely raised an eyebrow, unconcerned. Julian narrowed his eyes, sending the Brujah such a look that the Kindred couldn’t hide his shock at the reaction.
“Detective Kahonek is here, Cameron, because he and Sonny were called to a crime scene this evening, the crime scene which is the reason for which I have called this meeting,” Julian said, effectively silencing any further protests.
“Last week, I was contacted by Luviel Gregori, the Prince of Seattle. He warned me of two rogue Kindred who were making their way down the western coast, slaying humans without any regard to secrecy. There were six murders in
“These are the two responsible: Hadrian Primus, a three hundred year old Malkavian, and Katerina Novolski, Gangrel, age unknown. Both Kindred are very powerful, and quite possibly insane. Sonny?” Julian said, turning to the dark-skinned Kindred on his left.
Sonny stood, looking nothing like his human guise in his crisp dress shirt and slacks. “Their first kill here was found in
“Frank? Did you make any other observations?” Julian asked, and Frank nearly jumped, not having expected to be called upon.
“Yeah, actually. The girl had not been dominated when she was killed. She was taken down kicking and screaming, completely aware as her throat was torn out,” Frank said, not having bothered to stand. Frank shrunk back self-consciously as whispers broke out around the room, with many heads turning his way in speculation.
“How do you know this, Frank Kahonek? Domination leaves no evidence,” Daedalus said, posing the question that was apparently circling the room.
“Just plain old detective work. I’ve seen my share of bloodless corpses, you know. The one’s who’ve been dominated have no scratches or bruises, no marks of a struggle. Usually they simply look as if they’d lain down to die with a smile on their face and a hole in their neck. This one though…she was like one of Starkweather’s first victims. Bruises on her wrists, skinned knees and palms from falling, bruising over her mouth from the killer stifling her screaming…even the bite wound was jagged, as if her head had been jerking or spasming as the killer fed.” Whispers began again after he’d finished, but Frank was too preoccupied with the approving nod Daedalus had given him to hear what was said.
“If this is indeed true, that the rogue Kindred are not only killing indiscriminately, but also doing so without dominating their victim’s minds…then the Masquerade is in imminent danger,” Julian said, his expression darkening. “I declare Luviel Gregori’s blood hunt against Hadrian Primus and Katerina Novolski open in
Frank couldn’t help the small smile that touched his lips as he watched. How had he ever mistaken Julian for a cold-hearted killer? He was a Prince in every way…he truly cared about his people. In doing all in his power to defend the laws of the Camarilla, he would do everything possible to keep the Kindred out of danger.
Slowly, the room began to clear. Sonny gave Frank a pat on the shoulder as he left. Once the room was empty save for Julian and him, Frank slid from his chair and approached the other man, who was leaning against the table, staring at the two photos lying there. Neither photo was of very good quality. Both were night shots and taken from a distance, having been later enlarged to show the faces more clearly. Hadrian had been photographed leaning against shop window, his hair an unwashed disarray around his face. His clothing was a mishmash of colors and decades. Katerina, however, was a different story. She looked like something out of a nightmare. Her eyes were the vivid yellow-green of an enraged Kindred, and her eyebrows were too thick to be normal. Her nails tapered into hooked claws, and her hair more resembled the mane of a lion than a woman’s tresses.
“My god…if anybody saw her like that….” Frank said, and Julian hummed in agreement beside him.
“That is what worries me. Though she is blatant in her killings and disregard for the Masquerade, she has sanity enough to keep herself out of sight, or to disguise herself effectively enough to hide among humans.”
“Wait…you mean she always looks like that? She’s not just in a rage?” Frank asked.
“Yes. It is a common fate among the older Gangrel to come to resemble the beast whose form they most commonly take,” Julian said, then flipped the folder closed and stood back. Casually, he snaked his hand between them and grasped Frank’s hand. Frank took in the worried expression on the Kindred’s face and squeezed the hand in his reassuringly.
“Both you and Sonny have seemed very…worried about this mess. More so than other murders,” Frank prodded gently. Julian sighed and contemplated the grain of the table.
“Sonny spoke to me of his…unease. I admit that I, too, feel a certain foreboding, though I cannot explain it. It is just a feeling, nothing more,” Julian said. Unclasping their hands, he pulled Frank to his chest. Frank shivered as the Kindred buried his nose in his hair, inhaling deeply.
“I hope you’ll forgive me,” Julian said, still buried in the scent of Frank’s hair, “but I find your scent very calming.” Frank settled his arms around the other man’s waist, smiling.
“I don’t mind at all. Quite the contrary,” Frank said. He was half hoping that Julian’s mouth would begin a repeat of the previous night’s pleasures, and half wishing they could disappear someplace that wasn’t swarming with Kindred, when Julian tensed. Frank followed Julian’s gaze while the man pulled back, staring with displeasure toward the doorway.
“I admit I doubted the rumors,” Cameron said, staring at the two of them without surprise. One corner of his wide mouth was curved in distaste; nose scrunched briefly as if he’d caught a bad scent in the air. “To think, that our Prince would sully himself, and endanger the very laws he has sworn to protect, by consorting with a mortal.”
“Is your quarrel with my leadership, or my personal life?” Julian asked, his eyes suddenly cold and dark. His left hand, however, tightened its hold on Frank’s waist protectively.
“Both, my Prince. How could such a…dalliance…as this not prove detrimental to your judgment? The laws are clear. He must be killed or embraced. There are those of us who have only tolerated the mortal’s presence because of your oath, and because he remained largely ignorant of our world. This has gone too far, Julian. You must make your decision soon, or it will be demanded of you.”
“Cameron, you cannot ask such a thing of me. Frank has been nothing but loyal to our secrets, and his input has frequently been proven invaluable…”
“Pardon me, my Prince,” Cameron interrupted, then turned to address the shocked and dismayed Frank for the first time. “Frank Kahonek…it is not your character which concerns us. Indeed, were you Kindred, we would happily stand beside you. It is your mortality which concerns us. You are not immune to our powers. Our enemies could rip our secrets from you unwillingly; indeed, they could turn you into a mindless slave and command you to drag our sleeping bodies into the sun. Now that you have become our Prince’s lover, the danger is even greater. It is for these reasons that we ask that you become Kindred, or take our secrets to your grave,” Cameron finished.
Frank blinked, lowering his gaze to where his hand had found Julian’s again. “I…understand,” he said finally. “I hadn’t realized that anything like that could happen,” he said. Cameron nodded shortly, and turned his focus back to the Prince.
“I came only to tell you of our opinions. We realize it is not a decision to be made lightly. Nothing further will be said until the rogue’s are captured.” With a last look at Frank, the Brujah turned to the prince and bowed, and stepped quietly from the room.
Frank could feel Julian sag, as every one of the muscles of his back relaxed. The Prince had turned his head to the table; dark eyes squeezed shut as if in pain.
“Hey, it’s okay, man. It’s not like we didn’t expect that kind of reaction,” Frank said, resting his hand on the Kindred’s bent back. Julian shook his head, bowing his head briefly before standing up straight again.
“It was…foolish of me to think that there would be time before someone would approach me with such demand. I fear I have grown too complacent, too accepting of their adjustment to your presence among us. I am sorry, Frank. I never…I did not want this to ever be a decision you were faced with,” Julian paused, drawing in a shuddering, unsteady breath. “I…would not wish the Embrace on you, Frank. It is curse I have longed to escape since the day I awoke a Kindred. Nor, however, could I live with myself if you were killed because of me! And for this to come up now, just as I have begun to realize how much I love you…” Julian trailed off, covering his face with his hands for a moment, as if to hide from the world for one, brief instant.
Frank swallowed thickly, his eyes flicking briefly to the doorway where the Brujah Primogen had given his ultimatum. “Julian…I will be honest. I’ve never wanted to be Kindred. Power, immortality…that stuff means all shit to me. But I don’t want to die, either… I’ve got the best reason in the world to go on living right here,” Frank paused, struggling to find the words to convey the tangled mess of thoughts jockeying for position in the front of his brain. “Look…if we can’t find a way around it by the time ole’ Cameron comes a knocking, I want you to Embrace me. I…I love you too much to give up the ghost without seeing what we can be together. Alright?”
Julian’s eyes were troubled as he looked up, and slowly traced Frank’s jaw line with his thumb, studying the curves of bone and flesh like the answers to all their quandaries lay there.
“Very well,” Julian replied softly, then leaned in for a quick, chaste kiss. “As if I could refuse you anything, now.”