Claire wore her birthday present on her wrist: a bracelet of red-toned opals caught in twists of silver.
Her hair was wound around her face in braids, with soft falls of curls to her shoulders. It was the first hairstyle Anne had ever seen Claire wear, and it was still her favorite.
They’d come backstage after the orchestra concert, because Claire liked to meet the musicians and Anne liked to give Claire anything she desired. In her vibrant purple gown, Claire stood out among the black dresses and tuxedos like a jewel on dark velvet, bright and colorful and precious.
“I’ve been following your career,” Claire said to the cellist who’d been the guest star of the performance. “I saw you in New York in 1968, the Brahms concert.”
The cellist, who was a man with lines on his face and gray in his hair, gave Claire a startled look. “Oh, surely not. You’re far too young for that. You couldn’t even have been born yet.”
Anne stepped forward and slipped an arm around Claire’s waist before the conversation could get any farther. “Darling, are you ready to go?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Claire said quietly, teasing.
They stepped out into the darkness toward the parking lot. Anne had her hand in Claire’s and she tugged on it, guiding Claire in a lazy spin and then pressing her up against the building in the shadows. Most of the concert-goers had left and the musicians were still in the hall. They had a bit of time and a bit of space to themselves and Anne had decided to use it.
Claire gave a little sigh as Anne leaned in, pressing kisses to her throat.
“Did you have a good evening, my dear?” Anne asked.
“Oh, it was wonderful. The concert, this gown—”
The gown had a plunging neckline, perfectly chaste but sinful in its suggestion. Anne did what she’d been longing to do since Claire had put the dress on, and pushed the bright purple straps off of Claire’s shoulders. The top of the dress fell away, exposing Claire’s full breasts.
Claire gave a moan of delight as Anne caught their weight in her hands, and Anne made a hushing noise. “Keep quiet, my little bird. I won’t be able to have you if you attract attention.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” Claire breathed. She let her head fall back against the wall and gasped softly as Anne sucked a nipple into her mouth and rolled it between her teeth, while pinching the other with her fingers.
“What are you hungry for?” Claire whispered.
Anne gave a low laugh. “You mean, what am I hungry for first?”
Anne pulled back. “On your knees, sunbird.”
Claire sank to her knees immediately, pulling up the edge of her skirt to be sure it didn’t lie on the pavement. Her hands caught the hem of Anne’s dress, short and slim and black, pushing it up her thighs.
Claire was exceptionally good at this after so many years of practice. She slid her hands up to cup Anne’s rear and squeeze, while she leaned in and nosed at Anne’s black panties, which were already damp. Claire began to lick at Anne over the fabric of her panties and Anne bit back a moan.
Claire knew exactly how to work Anne, managing to find and suckle at her clit with the panties still on, until Anne made a frustrated noise and reached down, ripping the panties so that they fell down around one leg and caught on her black high heel.
Claire made an appreciative noise and Anne braced herself on the wall in front of her as Claire began to work in earnest. She used her thumbs to spread Anne’s pussy open, licking into her gently at first, then harder, deeper. Anne swallowed a groan as Claire’s tongue found a sensitive spot and teased it in slow slides. Anne began to cant her hips forward and Claire let a finger push all the way into her pussy, rubbing hard at that spot while Claire sucked Anne’s clit back into her mouth.
Anne came with a muffled gasp, and Claire didn’t let up, bracing her hands on Anne’s thighs, her head hidden beneath Anne’s skirt, eating her out with abandon now, full and thorough, until Anne came again, with a soft cry. Claire sat back, her head sliding free of Anne’s skirt. Her makeup was mussed and her lips shiny.
“Up,” Anne said, and Claire obeyed, leaning back against the wall and baring her throat. Anne stepped forward until her thigh slipped between Claire’s legs, playing with her tits, rolling and pinching them, until Claire was breathing in soft gasps. She was close to coming when Anne slid her hand into Claire’s red curls, tilting her head to the side, and sank her teeth into Claire’s neck.
Claire kept rolling her hips, riding Anne’s thigh in short, desperate pushes until she came. The blood always seemed to flow sweeter when Claire found her pleasure. Anne pulled back for a second, putting her thumb over the flow of blood. “Touch yourself, sunbird,” she instructed. “Come again for me.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Claire tilted her neck in invitation and Anne went back to feeding, listening to Claire’s little gasps and moans, feeling her play with her own nipples, and then hearing the slick, wet sounds as Claire put her fingers inside herself. She was fabulously wanton like this, pleasuring herself with Anne’s teeth in her throat. Anne felt Claire’s movements get harder, shallower, more frantic, until she came again, and Anne swallowed down the sweetness of it.
After that, Claire leaned back against the wall in exhaustion, and Anne lifted her mouth from Claire’s throat. The wounds sealed themselves after a few seconds and Anne caught Claire as she swayed, boneless, righting her dress, sliding the sleeves back into place. “Thank you,” Anne whispered.
Claire hummed softly. “I love you so much.”
The first time Claire had said it, she was lying on a bed in the sunlight. The bedsheets were white in the sun and graying in the shadow, and the pale lace and ruffles of the underclothes Claire wore were old but clean and mended. Claire’s red hair tumbled over her shoulders in fat curls, and on the rose-colored handkerchief in her hand, there was one bright spot of blood.
The window curtain was half-pulled, causing a line of shadow to fall across the bed, and that was where Anne sat, down to her underclothes as well. Claire had never questioned Anne’s aversion to sunlight. Perhaps it was not in her nature to question. Claire was a woman without much agency, toiling in a profession where she was not asked things, but always told. More than once in this bed Anne had found bruises on Claire’s pale skin, and they angered her like nothing else.
Claire was no soiled dove, as they called her in this dusty frontier town. If Claire was a bird, then she was something bright and vibrant and gorgeously alive, a sunbird with wings of shining jewel tones. Such a wondrous creature deserved better than to be kept in a cage like the one they were in now, a bedroom in a brothel.
Something very old and desperately cold inside of Anne longed to give Claire her freedom, to see her walk down the street in clothes matched to her own taste, to feed her with what she hungered for, to give her all that she desired, and then— and then to see if such treatment might coax a beautiful sunbird to choose to alight on Anne’s hand. Not caged, not bought, not sold, but indulged and worshiped. Protected. Loved.
It had been a very long time since Anne had been in love with anyone, and she honestly did not expect Claire to say I love you so much before Anne had even had a chance to indulge and spoil her. Claire, who fucked several men and the occasional woman every night, Claire who’d had countless lovers, looked at Anne out of all of them and gave her this gift. I love you so much. And not a moment later, the sharp coughing spilled a drop of blood onto Claire’s handkerchief.
“I love you too,” Anne said, desperate, clutching at Claire’s hand, pressing kisses there.
Claire smiled. “You want more than this,” she said, a hand on the rumpled bed. “You want something else. I don’t know what. But you should tell me, because I love you and I won’t be scared.”
“It’s all right to be scared,” Anne said. “If it scares you, you must say so.”
Claire nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I will.”
Anne said it as gently as she could. “I want to taste your blood.”
Claire did not look entirely surprised. Besides the aversion to sunlight, she’d surely noticed that Anne never ate or drank anything, not even water or wine. Anne was an independently wealthy woman who’d arrived in this small town from parts unknown, and she did what she pleased, including visiting the town brothel for the companionship of another woman. Anne had always been strange, and Claire had never shied from it.
“Will it kill me?” Claire asked.
Anne squeezed Claire’s hand. “No. No, my precious sunbird, I would never hurt you. Not for anything.”
“Will it save me?”
“Will I be like you?”
“No. If you are, then I can’t drink from you. But your illness will disappear, and if I drink from you regularly, you won’t age or be ill ever again.”
Claire smiled, her green eyes sparkling. “Will you take me away from here?”
“Anywhere, my darling.”
“And will you still make love to me?” Anne must have had a startled expression on her face, because Claire laughed. “It was always that with you. Not just fucking. You treat me like a precious thing.”
“You are the most precious thing in the universe,” Anne said. “And I will never let you forget it.”
“Then, please,” Claire said. She rose to her knees, letting the handkerchief fall onto the bed. She crawled forward until she could straddle Anne’s lap in the dark corner of the bed, and then pulled at the laces of her undergarments until they fell away, baring her to the waist. Her plump breasts swayed freely until Anne cupped them in her hands with a hungry moan.
Claire pulled her hair back and away from one shoulder and then tipped her head, baring her neck. “I love you,” Claire said again. “Take whatever you need.”
Anne let out a growl of want, and pressed desperate kisses to Claire’s throat before her teeth broke the pale skin and she began to drink.
Claire made one brief sound of pain, but she stayed in Anne’s embrace, tranquil, wrapping her arms around Anne’s waist and sighing softly as Anne took her fill.
Afterwards, Anne tumbled Claire forward onto the bed, pulling away her underclothes until she lay completely nude, half in the sun and half in the shadow. There was no trace of bruising on Claire’s skin anymore, no mark of anyone else’s brutal hands and harsh desires. And Anne could hear Claire breathing more easily than she had in months, the infection cleared from her lungs.
Claire pulled Anne into her arms and they made love until the sun was down and the whole bed was in shadow. Then they dressed and went downstairs, where Anne bought Claire’s freedom from the madam with a nugget of pure gold, and walked out with a treasure far more valuable.
When Anne awoke the morning after the orchestra concert, Claire was already up, fussing with the curtains. Their bed lay in a dark corner, far from the window, but Claire was always determined that not the tiniest bit of sunrise would ever find its way into their room. In fact, Claire had lobbied for not having windows in the house at all, but Anne thought that was a bit extreme.
“Come back to bed,” Anne said sleepily, holding out her arm.
Claire gave the curtains a last tug and then obeyed, sliding back into Anne’s arms. Claire was still sleep-warm and cuddly, and Anne, who didn’t have warm blood flowing through her veins, clutched her close, shamelessly soaking up her heat. Claire gave a squeak and a little wiggle of false protest against icy hands and feet, just enough to make Anne tighten her arms around her.
But Anne could feel that Claire was restless. “Is something wrong?” Anne asked. “What can I do for you, my sunbird?”
Claire’s voice was soft, muffled against Anne’s shoulder. “Do you know, it’s been a hundred years?”
“I suppose it has.”
“No, I mean exactly a hundred years, today. Since the night you healed me and promised to take me away from the brothel.”
Anne nuzzled at Claire’s neck. “I know.”
“Back in the day,” Claire said, in an odd voice, “we were never afraid to do something illegal.”
Anne pulled back to look at her. “What, are we robbing a bank for our anniversary? We don’t have to, darling, I bought you an extremely extravagant gift already.”
Claire looked amused, and a bit mischievous. “I bought you one too.”
“You— Claire.” Anne gave her a disapproving look. “You are the only gift I want. You know that.”
Claire was undaunted. “You’ll want this one. At least, I hope you will.”
“That’s not how this works.”
Claire gave her a knowing look. “It works the way I say it works, because we both know I’m the one in charge here.”
Anne tried to hide a smile. “I suppose we do.”
Claire twisted away to rummage in the drawer of the bedside table. When she turned back she was holding a ring box, and she opened it to show a silver ring with a shining black stone.
“I want you to marry me,” Claire said. “In front of our friends. Under the stars.”
Claire drew Anne’s hand close, smiling at how it shook, at Anne’s shocked expression. As Claire slipped the ring on her finger, Anne finally recovered enough to give a choked “Yes.”
“It can’t be legal, of course,” Claire said, “but for now, I just— Anne, I love you so much.”