I didn't so much wake, as come to the surface of sleep, enough to hear voices. Micah's voice first, "What did Gregory say?"
"That his father tried to contact him," Cherry's voice.
"Why is that bad?"
"His father is the one that pimped him and Stephen out when they were children."
"Every time I think I've heard the worst of people, I'm wrong," Micah said.
I fought to open my eyes, and it was as if my eyelids weighed a hundred pounds apiece. I blinked and found Micah still curled against me, but propped up on one elbow. Cherry was standing beside the bed. She was tall, slender, long-waisted, with blond hair cut boyishly short. She wasn't wearing any makeup which meant she was in a hurry, and she was actually wearing clothes which was unusual for one of the wereleopards. They usually only got dressed if I insisted. Either she was going out, or something was wrong. But of course, something was wrong.
I fought to wake up enough to say something, and it took more effort than was pretty. My voice came out thick, "What'd you say, 'bout Gregory?"
Cherry bent closer, and it took almost everything I had to keep her in focus as she moved in towards me. "You knew that Gregory and Stephen had been abused as children?" she made it half question.
I managed to say, "Yeah." I frowned up at her. "Did you say their father pimped them out as children?" Maybe I was dreaming? Either that, or I'd misunderstood.
"You didn't know," Cherry said. Her face was so serious.
I was suddenly more awake. "No."
Zane came through the bedroom door with Nathaniel in his arms. Zane was six feet tall, stretched a little too thin for my tastes, but since he and Cherry were living together, it wasn't my tastes that counted. His very short hair was white-blond now. It was the first color occurring in nature that I'd ever seen him dye his hair. I had no idea what his true hair color was.
Zane carried Nathaniel tucked in against his chest, like he was a sleeping child. Nathaniel's nearly ankle-length auburn hair, in its heavy braid, was clutched in one of Zane's hands. If you tried carrying Nathaniel without controlling all that hair, you had a tendency to trip on it. On either side of the braid his body was bare.
"He's wearing underwear," Zane said, "we know the rules. No sleeping naked with you." He moved the hair enough to flash a pair of the satiny jogging shorts that Nathaniel was fond of wearing for jammies.
I tried to prop myself up on my elbows, but that seemed too hard. I settled for lying on my back with both eyes solidly open. "How's he doing?"
"He's fine," Micah said.
I looked at him. I tried to make the look skeptical, but I failed, so I had to say out loud, "He looks comatose."
"Say something to her, you lazy cat," Zane said.
Nathaniel turned his head slowly, almost painfully slow, as Zane carried him around to the other side of the bed. He blinked lavender eyes at me, and gave me a lazy smile. He looked almost as tired as I felt. And why not? Hadn't he collapsed for the same reason I had–because some vampire had been feeding off of him? The ardeurdidn't take blood, but it was still a type of vampirism.
Micah crawled out from the covers, flashing the perfectly tanned line of his body. Mercifully, he kept most of his assets hidden from my view. I think I was too tired to be tempted, but I knew I was too tired to want to be tempted. He pulled clothes on with his back to me, but when he turned around, pants safely zipped, the look on his face said plainly that he knew I'd been watching him.
His dark, dark, brown hair curled around his shoulders. One movement of his head sent all that heavy hair sliding to one side of his face. The dark hair framed those extraordinary eyes, gleaming yellow and green at the same time now.
"If you don't move out of her line of sight, we'll be here all bloody day," Zane said.
"You sound jealous," Cherry chided him.
"Well," he said, "you don't watch me like that."
"I don't watch anybody like that," Cherry said.
Zane grinned at her. "I know."
They had one of those laughs that is a couple laugh, and you know that you are on the outside of an inside joke. Zane was right about one thing, I was delaying. It wasn't until I tried getting out of bed that I realized I was still naked. I'd sort of known that, but in a distant, floaty kind of way.
"I need clothes," I said.
Micah had pulled a polo shirt out of the communal drawer. It was one I'd bought with him in mind, a deep rich forest green. It brought out the green in his eyes. But the shirt fit both of us, as most of our shirts did. Our casual clothes had become common property–only the dress-up clothes were strictly his and hers.
Micah didn't so much make me lie back down, as touch my shoulder so I'd stop trying to sit up. I didn't seem to be coordinated enough to sit up in bed, keep the sheet over my breasts, and chew gum at the same time. It was as if my body just wasn't listening to me yet.
"Anita, if you don't rest you're not going to be any good to anyone."
"Gregory's my leopard, I'm his Nimir-Ra."
Micah smoothed his hand down the side of my face. "And I'm his Nimir-Raj. Go back to sleep. I'll take care of it, that's what you hired me for, right?"
I had to smile at him, but I didn't like not going to Gregory's rescue. It must have shown on my face, because he knelt beside the bed, taking my hand in his. "Gregory is having hysterics because his father's in town. I'm going to go and see how he's doing, maybe bring him back here so his father can't find him through the phone book."
I was having trouble focusing on Micah's face. I'd crawled out of sleep, but it was sucking at me again. "Yes," I said, voice starting to sound distant, even to me, "bring him back here."
He kissed me gently on the forehead, my hand still in his. "I will. Now sleep, or you're going to make yourself sick. A sick Nimir-Ra can't protect anybody."
Since I couldn't keep my eyes from giving long blinks, it was hard to argue. Him kissing my hand was the first hint I had that he'd stood up. That had been a long blink.
The bed moved, and Nathaniel cuddled up against me. His arm across my stomach, one leg across my thigh. It was one of his favorite sleeping positions, but something wasn't right with it. "Clothes," I said, and I frowned harder, "Can't feed off Nathaniel again."
Micah reappeared in my line of sight. "You've only been asleep about two hours, that's why you're so tired. If you fed the ardeurat dawn, you've got at least six hours before you need to feed again. We're just putting him in here so he won't be alone."
The last few words floated out of the dark, and it wasn't until he'd been quiet for a long time that I opened my eyes to an empty room. Nathaniel was tucked in against me, his face hidden against my shoulder. He snuggled in tighter, leaving me with about an inch of bed to spare. I started to move him over and get out of bed to find the pajamas no one had given me, but I fell back to sleep. The wereleopards were having a bad influence on how comfortable I was being nude.
I dreamed. Belle Morte sat at her dressing table, her long black hair fell in waves, freshly brushed, gleaming in the candlelight. She wore a gown of deep yellow gold, and I knew before she turned those honey brown eyes to me that the color of the robe brought out the gold in them.
Her lips were red and moist, as if she'd just licked them. She held out her white hand towards me. "Come, ma petite,come, sit with me." She smiled with that red, red mouth, and I wanted nothing more than to go to her, to take that outstretched hand, and be held.
I actually started forward a step and found I was wearing a gown similar to hers. I could feel the layers of petticoats, the metal of the stays digging in, forcing my posture absolutely straight. The gown was a rich crimson, a color that made my own skin gleam white, my hair blacker for the contrast, my own lips redder than they truly were, my dark eyes nearly black.
I touched the unfamiliar clothes, and it helped me to think, helped me to hesitate. I shook my head. "No," and my whisper echoed oddly through the room.
She waved that pale hand at me. "As you like, ma petite,but come closer, so I may know you better."
I shook my head again, forcing my fingers to touch the heavy, unfamiliar fabric of the gown. "I am not your ma petite."
"Of course you are, for everything that belongs to Jean-Claude is mine."
"No," I said. It seemed like I should have been saying more, but I couldn't think with her sitting there wrapped in candlelight, a bowl of old-fashioned roses on the table by her elbow. The roses were her rose, created and named for her centuries ago.
She stood in a swish of skirts, that rustling sound that made my pulse beat faster, and my body tighten. Run, run,I screamed it in my head, but my body wasn't moving.
She walked slowly towards me, her breasts mounded by the tight clothing. I had a sudden flash of memory of what it was like to kiss along that gleaming skin.
I took two handfuls of the long skirt, turned on my high-heeled shoes, and ran. The room vanished as I ran, and it was a long, endlessly long corridor that I ran down. It was dark, but it was the dark of dreams where even without light you could always see the monsters. Though what lurked in the alcoves along the hallway weren't exactly monsters.
Couples entwined on either side of me. Glimpses of flesh, pale and dark, images of carnal delights. I didn't see anything clearly, I didn't want to. I ran, and tried not to see, but of course, I couldn't not see everything. Breasts like ripe fruit spilling out of old-fashioned dresses. Full skirts lifted to prove that there was nothing underneath but flesh. A man with his pants around his thighs, and a woman bending over him. Blood gleamed down the pale flesh, vampires raised fangs to the light, and humans clung to them, begging for more.
I ran faster, and faster, struggling against the heavy skirts and the tight upright corset. It was hard to breathe, hard to move, and no matter how fast I ran, the door that I could see at the end of all these carnal nightmares never seemed to get closer.
There was nothing too terribly frightening happening in the alcoves. Nothing I hadn't either seen or participated in, in one form or another, but somehow I knew that if I stopped running they'd get me. And, more than anything else, I didn't want them to touch me.
The door was suddenly in front of me. I grabbed the handle, tugged on it, and it was locked. Of course it was locked. I screamed, and knew before I turned around that the things in the corridor weren't in the alcoves anymore.
Belle's voice, "Come to me willingly, ma petite."
I put my forehead against the door, eyes closed, as if, if I didn't turn around, didn't see them, they couldn't get me. "Stop calling me that."
She laughed, and it felt like sex sliding along my skin. Jean-Claude's laugh was amazing, but this, this . . . the sound made me spasm against the hard wood and metal of the door.
"You will feed us, ma petite.It will happen, your choice is only in how."
I turned slowly, the way you do in nightmares. You turn, knowing that the hot breath on your skin really is the monster.
Belle Morte stood in the center of the vast echoing space of the corridor, and through Jean-Claude's memories I knew it was a real place, this corridor. The people from the alcoves crowded to either side of her and behind her, a huge, hungry-eyed, half-naked mob.
"I offer you my hand, come, take it, and it will be pleasure beyond your dreams. Refuse me . . ." she motioned, and that one small movement seemed to take in all the eager, leering faces. "It can be a dream, or a nightmare. The choice is yours."
I shook my head. "You don't give choices, Belle, you never did."
"Then your choice is . . . pain."
The mob at her back rushed me, and the dream shattered. I was left gasping in Nathaniel's worried face. "You cried out in your sleep. Were you having a nightmare?" he said.
My heart was beating so hard I could barely swallow past my pulse. I managed a breathy, "Oh, yeah."
Then I smelled roses, thick, cloying, old-fashioned, almost sickly sweet. Belle's voice echoed through my head, "You will feed us."
The ardeurpoured through me, raising heat along my skin. Nathaniel jerked his hands back as if he'd been burned, but I knew it hadn't hurt. He knelt in the tangle of sheets, eyes wide, the little satin jogging shorts stretched tight over his thighs. They weren't stretched tight over the front of him yet, he wasn't excited yet, and I wanted him to be.
I rolled onto my side, reaching for him, one pale hand outstretched. "Come, take my hand." The moment the words left my mouth, I was back in my nightmare, except that I was playing Belle.
Nathaniel was reaching out towards me, to touch my hand, and I knew if he did, the ardeurwould spread to him, and I would feed. Nathaniel had collapsed last night because I'd taken too much from him, what would happen if I fed again this soon?
"Stop," I said, and it was almost firm. If it had been almost anyone else, they wouldn't have stopped, but it was Nathaniel and he did what he was told.
He stayed on his knees, those tiny shorts stretched so tight across his body. He let his hand fall back into his lap. He was only inches away from me. All I had to do was close that small distance.
I needed to get out of the bed, to walk away, but that strong I was not. I couldn't seem to take my eyes away from him, so close, so eager, so young. That thought wasn't mine.
I frowned, and the confusion helped me push back the ardeurlong enough to sit up, long enough to look at the mirror on the dresser against the far wall. I was trying to see if my eyes were shining with honey-brown fire, but they were my eyes. Belle hadn't possessed me like she had once upon a time. But she'd done something–awakened the ardeurhours ahead of time.
The bed moved, and my head swiveled back, like a predator hearing the mouse in the grass. Nathaniel was exactly where I'd left him, but he must have made some small movement, and that one small movement had been enough. My pulse was in my throat, my body tight and swollen with need. A need like nothing I'd ever experienced. I couldn't breathe past it, couldn't move around it. It was as if need had taken me over and there was nothing left of me.
This wasn't right. This wasn't me. I managed to shake my head, to let out the breath I'd been holding. I was being messed about with. I even knew who was doing it, but I didn't know how to stop it.
The door to the bedroom opened. It was Jason. He stood in the doorway rubbing his hands on his bare arms. He'd pulled on his jeans but hadn't bothered to zip or button them. I caught a flash of a new pair of silk undies, pale blue to match the shirt he wasn't wearing anymore.
"What are you doing in here, Anita? The power is crawling over my skin."
I tried to talk around the ripeness of my own pulse and failed twice, before I managed to say, "Ardeur."
He came farther into the room, still rubbing his arms trying to get rid of the goosebumps. "It's hours too early."
I wanted to tell him about the dream, about Belle, but all I could concentrate on was the glimpse of silk through his open jeans. I wanted to go to him, to pull his pants down around his ankles, to take him in my mouth . . .
The visual was so strong I had to close my eyes, had to hug myself tight to keep myself on the bed. There was another small movement from Nathaniel.
He had lain down on the bed, his braid trailing behind him like Rapunzel. His face was peaceful. He would let me do anything I wanted to him, even love him to death.
I drew my legs in against my body, wrapped my arms around myself so tight, and held on. "Get out, Nathaniel, get out."
I felt the bed move, but didn't dare look. I kept my eyes tight shut. "Get out!"
"You heard her, Nathaniel," Jason said, "leave now."
I heard small sounds as he crossed the room, then the door shut. "You can look now, Anita, he's gone."
I opened my eyes, and the room was empty, except for the play of sunlight, and Jason standing beside the bed. His hair was very yellow in the light, the color of butter, his eyes so blue. I followed the line of his body to the broad shoulders, the muscled edge of his arms, his chest with its pale nipples. There was no hair on his chest or stomach. A lot of strippers shaved their body hair. I'd seen Jason nude often enough to know that he was mostly shaved. I just hadn't really noticed how shaved. He was my friend, so even nude, he was still my friend. You don't stare at your friend's crotch to see how much body hair there is.
Now, sitting on the bed, holding myself tight, I didn't feel friendly, I felt crazed. I wanted to fling myself off the bed, onto him. I wanted him naked.
"What do you need?" Jason asked.
I looked up at him, and didn't know whether to cry or scream, but finally I found words, a hoarse voice squeezed past my pulse, "I have to feed."
"I know." He looked so solemn. "What do you need me to do?"
I wanted to tell him to leave, too, but I didn't. Micah wasn't here. The vampires were still dead to the world. Nathaniel was off-limits for today. There were others outside this room, but no one I wanted to touch. No one who was even my friend.
I looked up at Jason. A square of sunlight splashed across his chest, painting him gold and warm.
"What do you want me to do, Anita?"
My voice came out barely above a whisper, "Feed me."
"Blood, flesh, or sex?" his face was careful as he asked, solemn.
My ardeurwas always mixed with other desires, but not today. Today there was only one need. "Sex." That one word, low, soft, while I kept myself from going to him.
His so-serious face split into a sudden grin. "I'll take one for the team."
I slid off the bed, to stand for a moment nude before him. I wanted to run to him, to jump on him, to fuck him. There was no other word for what my body was wanting. But I didn't want to do that. I wanted to avoid intercourse, if I could. I'd managed to avoid it with Nathaniel for months. Surely, just this once with Jason I could manage it.
I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, then I dropped to the floor on all fours. I crawled towards him, feeling like I had muscles in places that I shouldn't have. My beast curled through my body like a cat on its back, stretching in the sunlight. But the ardeurroared over my beast, as if the desire were some great hand, smashing down every other need.
"Aren't you going to complain about being naked in front of me?"
"No," I whispered it, not trusting anything louder. His feet were bare. I lowered my face to the smooth skin on top of his foot, licked along it.
His breath came out in a shiver. "God."
I used my hands to crawl up his legs, tugging on the jeans, until I knelt in front of him. I'd managed to pull the jeans lower on his hips without meaning to, exposing a wide triangle of the blue silk undies. My face was almost level with his groin. I could see him pressed tight and firm under the cloth, the tip of him straining against the elastic of the underwear, trapped. I wanted to lower that cloth, to help him.
I slid my hands around behind him, digging fingers into his jeans, gripping his butt. It drew a sound from low in his throat, but it kept me from ripping off his clothes.
I pressed my face against his thigh, turning it away from his groin. My control hung from a rapidly fraying thread. I'd learned through long practice with Nathaniel that the only way to keep from doing more was to do everything carefully, slowly. But I didn't want to be careful, and I felt anything but slow. I wanted to beg him to take me. Damn it, I could do better than this.
Jason stroked my hair, and that one gentle touch brought my face back up. I gazed up the line of his body to his face. There was that look that comes on a man's face when he's sure of you, sure of what will happen. I never thought to see that look on Jason's face, not for me. That look in his spring blue eyes brought a sound low in my throat. He touched my cheek. "Don't stop," he said, voice soft, "don't stop."
I lowered my face towards him, still gazing up. I licked him through the silk, and watched his face while I did it. I licked along the length of him until he threw his head back, his eyes closed. He was so hard, so firm against my mouth, under the cloth. I wrapped my mouth around the head of him through the silk, bringing one hand round to hold him, solid and thick.
He made a noise halfway between a word and a shout, as if I'd surprised him. He looked down at me, and his eyes were wild.
I drew back from him and the silk had turned dark blue where my mouth had touched him.
His hands went to the back of his pants and it was Jason that slid the silk and the jeans down his hips. Him that revealed himself to me while I knelt in front of him.
He was smooth, the head wide and rounded, graceful, straight and fine, running slightly to the side, so that he nestled in the hollow of his own hip.
I took him in my hand, and his breath quickened. I lifted him away from his body just enough so that I could spill my mouth over the head of him, rolling my tongue along that graceful curve.
He shuddered under my touch.
I drew more of him into my mouth, sliding my hand down to cup lower things. He was smooth to the touch, everywhere I could touch with hand or mouth, there was nothing but the smooth perfection of him. He was shaved smooth.
I'd been with men who trimmed, and shaved some, but never one that was perfectly smooth. I liked it. It made so many things easier to take into my mouth, to roll and explore.
Every touch, every caress, every lick, seemed to bring some new noise from him–whimpers, soft cries, breathless words. It became a game to see how many sounds I could draw from him.
I drew his pants down farther, so that I could spread his legs, lick between them, along that thin line of skin between testicles and anus.
He cried out, and I moved up his body, one lick, one nibble at a time. I took him into my mouth again, as much as I could from this angle, wrapping my fingers in a ring around the rest of him, my other hand cupping his testicles, playing along that line that ran between his legs. His breath was coming quick and quicker. His body quivered against me.
He grabbed a handful of my hair, drew me back from him. He looked down at me like a drowning man. "Up," he said.
I frowned at him. "What?"
He bent down, grabbed my upper arms, drew me to my feet. He kissed me, and it was like he was trying to crawl inside me through my mouth, lips, tongue, teeth–something between a kiss and eating me.
His hands slid down my back, following the curve of my spine, then lower over the swell of my hips, until his fingers found my thighs. He lifted me, with just his hands on my thighs, our mouths still locked together. The movement of his hands spread my legs, pressed me against him. The feel of him so hard, so ready pressed against my body, drew small sounds from me, and he ate those sounds straight from my mouth, as if he were tasting my screams.
He used his hands to draw my lower body away from his, my arms still locked around his shoulders, one hand sliding through the baby silkiness of his hair. He moved one hand to my butt, supporting all my weight on one hand, while he moved the other hand between us. I had a second to realize what he was going to do. I fought the ardeur,I fought the feel of his mouth on mine, the feel of him in my arms, to rear back enough to try and say, something, I managed to say, "Jason," and he drove his hips forward, upward. But the feel of him inside me was exactly what the ardeurwanted. Exactly what I wanted.
He entered me, and it wasn't hesitant, or gentle. He fought against the wet tightness of my body, both hands on the backs of my thighs, pulling me to him, as he pushed himself inside me. It drew small screams out of my throat, one after the other.
He walked us backward until he collapsed me on the edge of the bed, most of my lower body still held in his hands, trapped against him. He stayed standing, his body pinning me to the edge of the bed, his hands holding me as if I weighed nothing.
He stared down at me with eyes that were no longer human, but wolf. He drew himself out of my body, slowly, an inch at a time until I was almost free, then he shoved himself back, and made me scream again. It wasn't a scream of pain.
He found a rhythm that was fast, and deep, and hard, as if he were trying to shove himself out the other side of me. He beat his body into mine with a thick, meaty sound.
The orgasm caught me unprepared. One moment I was caught in the rhythm of his body in mine, and the next I was screaming, writhing underneath him. I raked nails down his body, anywhere I could touch him, and when that wasn't enough I clawed my own body.
Jason's screams echoed mine, and his body tightened against me, spine bowing, head thrown back, and a howl spilled from his lips. The ardeurdrank him down, his skin, his sweat, his seed.
He collapsed on top of me. His breath came in a painful struggle, and his heart pounded like a trapped thing against my skin. He scooted us more solidly onto the bed, his body still deep within mine. When we were both lying on the bed, breathing hard, pulses quieting, he looked down at me, and there was something in his eyes, something serious, and very un-Jason.
His voice was still breathless, hoarse, when he said, "I know that this may be the only time I get to do this. When I move, let me hold you for just a little while."
My own voice wasn't much better than his, "Since I can't move from the waist down yet, sure."
He laughed then, and because he was still inside me and partially erect, the movement caused me to writhe underneath him, tightening, setting nails into his back.
He screamed, and his hips ground himself against me again. When he could breath again, he whispered, "Oh, god, don't do that again."
"Then get off me," I said, voice almost as breathless as his.
He raised up on his arms, almost like doing a push-up, and drew himself out of me. Feeling him pulling out made me writhe again. He collapsed beside me, half-laughing.
When I could talk again, I said, "What's funny?"
"God, you're amazing."
"Not bad yourself," I said.
"Not bad?" he said, and gave me wide eyes.
I had to smile. "Fine, you're amazing, too."
"Don't say it if you don't mean it," he said.
I finally managed to turn onto my side so I could see his face better. "I do mean it. You were amazing."
He turned on his side so we lay there facing each other, but not touching. "If I never get to do this again, I wanted it to be good."
I had to close my eyes, to fight off another urge to writhe on the bed. I let out a long, steadying breath, then opened my eyes again. "Oh, it was that. I had a really good time, but are you always this vigorous? Not every girl likes to be pounded into the mattress."
"I've seen the men you've been sleeping with, Anita, I knew I could be as hard and fast as I wanted to be, and not hurt you."
I frowned at him. "Are you implying that you're small?"
"No, I'm saying that I'm not huge. I'm good sized, but some of the men in your bed are more than good-sized."
I blushed. I hadn't blushed the entire time we'd been making love, and now I blushed. "I don't know what to say, Jason, I feel like I should defend your ego, but . . ."
"But inch for inch I know where I stand, Anita." He laughed, and slid an arm under my shoulders. I let him bring me into the curve of his shoulder. I slid my hand across his stomach, my other arm underneath the small of his back, my leg sliding over his thigh. We cuddled, almost as close now as we had been earlier.
"You were wonderful," I said.
"I noticed how wonderful you thought I was." He raised his free arm up so I could see the fresh bloody scratches I'd put down his arms.
I widened eyes at him. "Does your other arm look that bad?"
I frowned, and he touched my forehead. "Don't frown, Anita, I'm going to enjoy every mark. I'll miss them when they heal."
"But . . ."
He touched fingertip to my lips, to keep me from finishing. "No buts, just amazing sex, and I for one want to feel the aches and pains of it as long as I can." He touched my arm where it lay across his stomach, raised it so I could look at it. There were nail marks, some of them seeping blood, some just red and raised. "These aren't my marks."
Of course, once I saw them, they started to hurt. Why is it that small wounds don't hurt until you see them? "Actually," I said, "they are your marks, or at least a sign of a job well done. I don't remember ever marking myself up this badly."
He gave that low masculine chuckle with an edge of laughter that was pure Jason. "Thanks for the compliment, but I know that whatever I did, it can't be half as wonderful as what Asher and Jean-Claude did a few hours ago. No amount of inches, or talent, will put a man in that league."
I shivered, hugging him. "That's not necessarily a bad thing."
"How can you say that? I've felt a fraction of what Asher did to you, and it's . . ." he seemed to be searching for just the right word, he finally said, "wondrous, mind-blowing."
"Yeah," I said, "the kind of pleasure you'd do almost anything to experience again." My voice sounded less than happy.
Jason touched my chin, raised me to look at him. "Are you thinking of not going back for more?"
I tucked my face against his shoulder. "Let's just say that I'm not completely happy about it."
"Why not?" he asked.
"I don't know exactly." I shook my head as much as I could pressed against him. "Truth, is that it scares me."
"What scares you?"
"Sex is great, Jason, but this . . . what Asher can do with his bite." I tried to put it into words, and knew that whatever I said would fail to describe it. "Asher feels like a Master Vampire in my head, his level of power, but he has no animal to call. He can do the voice trick like Jean-Claude, but that's a minor power. I was a little puzzled, I mean, he feels like a master, but where's his power?" I shivered again. "I found out."
Jason rested his chin on the top of my head and said, "What do you mean?"
"I mean that his power lies in seduction, sex, intimate play. He can't feed off lust the way Jean-Claude can, and he doesn't cause lust in those around him the way Jean-Claude does, but damn, once the preliminaries are out of the way, he can cause such . . . pleasure. It really is something that people would kill for, sign their fortunes away for, do whatever Belle Morte wanted them to do, just as long as Asher would keep visiting their beds."
"So he's like this amazing lay," Jason said.
"No, you're an amazing lay, Micah is an amazing lay, I'm not a hundred percent sure that Jean-Claude is as good as I think he is, because I'm not sure anymore how much of it is true talent and how much is vampire powers. I did not have intercourse with Asher. We just shared blood."
Jason moved so he could frown down at me. "I'm sorry, but the wolf knows these things. It wasn't just Jean-Claude I smelled when I walked into the room."
I blushed again. "I didn't say Asher didn't have a good time, I just said we didn't have intercourse."
"And your point is what?" he asked.
"My point is that if that was only taking blood, I'm afraid to have real sex with him. I mean how much better could it be?"
He gave a laugh that held an edge of giggling, almost a giddy sound. "I'd love to find out."
I raised up on one elbow. "Are you telling me you'd do Asher?"
He frowned, the laughter still glinting in his eyes. "I was a little confused for awhile about exactly what my preferences were. I mean I've been Jean-Claude's pomme de sangfor about two years now. It's amazing when he feeds, Anita, a-fucking-mazing. Enjoying being with him this much made me think I might be gay." He traced his hand down my shoulder. "But I like girls. I'm not saying that with the right person bisexual isn't a possibility, but not if it means never being able to do this again. I like girls." He drew "like" out into a multisyllabic word.
It made me laugh. "And I like men."
"I noticed," he said, still with a trace of laughter in his voice.
I sat up. "I think we've cuddled enough."
He touched my arm, face serious again. "Are you really not going to bed Asher?"
I sighed. "You know how you said Jean-Claude is so amazing when he takes blood."
"Jean-Claude says that Asher's bite is orgasmic, literally. So that means that Asher's bite is more pleasurable than even Jean-Claude's."
"Okay," he said. He propped himself up on pillows, hands folded across his stomach as he listened to me.
I was sitting Indian fashion, still nude, and it didn't seem to matter. It wasn't sexual now, just comfortable.
"I've had sex with Jean-Claude, but never allowed him to take blood with it."
"Never?" he said.
He shook his head. "You are the strongest willed person I've ever met. No one else would have refused the double pleasure, not this long."
"You haven't done both with him," I said.
He grinned. "It's considered bad form to fuck your pomme de sang,unless they initiate it. If they initiate it, then it's an extra treat, and only if they've been good."
"You sound like you asked him about this."
I raised eyebrows at that.
"Oh, come on, Anita, I've slept with him longer than you have. You'd have to be more of a flaming heterosexual than I am to not wonder."
"He turned you down?"
"Very politely, but yeah."
I was frowning. "Did he say why?"
Jason nodded. "You."
I couldn't frown any harder, so I tried to stop, but I was puzzled. "Why me? You've been his pommelonger than I've been his girlfriend, and a hell of a lot longer than I've been his lover."
"By the time I asked, you were dating. He seemed to think that you would dump his ass if you found out he was doing another man."
"You're making my head hurt," I said.
"Sorry, but if you don't want the truth, don't ask." He settled the pillows more comfortably at his back. "But you've managed to avoid answering my original question."
"What was it?" I asked.
He looked at me. "Don't try to be coy, Anita, you're so bad at it."
"Fine, Asher, what to do about Asher. I made sort of promises to them both that we'd find a way to be a menage a trois, or would that be a menage a quatre."
"Who's your fourth?"
"Micah," I said.
"Darn," he said.
I frowned at him.
"Couldn't help myself, sorry."
"If I go back on that promise we'll lose Asher."
"What do you mean, lose?"
I explained about Asher's plans to leave.
"So if you don't come across, he's gone."
He frowned, laughed, then shook his head. "Let me think this through. His bite is overwhelmingly orgasmic, mind-blowing pleasure. You think that if you fuck him while he takes blood that it will be even more amazing."
"Yes," I said.
"Why is this a problem?" Jason asked.
I hugged myself. "I'm afraid, Jason."
He sat up beside me. "Afraid of what?"
"Afraid of being . . ." I hesitated, tried to find a the words, and finally, "I'm afraid of being consumed."
He frowned. "Consumed, I know what the word means, but I don't understand what you mean by it."
"Aren't you afraid of wanting one of them so badly that you'd do anything to have him with you?"
"Do you just mean vampires, or people in general?"
I rested my chin on my knees. "Vampires, of course."
"No, you don't mean just vampires, you're afraid of wanting anybodycompletely, aren't you?"
I wouldn't look at him. "I don't know what you mean."
He pushed my hair back behind my ear, but it was too thick to stay. "Don't lie to Uncle Jason, you didn't mean just vampires."
I looked at him, hugging my legs to me. "Maybe not, but the point is the same. I don't want to want anyone so much that if they aren't with me, I die."
A look passed through his eyes that I couldn't read. "You mean you're afraid of loving anyone more than life itself?"
He smiled, and it was gentle, and a little sad. "I would give one of my less favorite body parts for a woman to care for me as deeply as you do for Nathaniel."
I started to protest that I didn't love Nathaniel.
Jason touched a finger to my lips. "Stop. I know you haven't given yourself over heart and soul to Nathaniel, but then you haven't given yourself over heart and soul to anybody, have you?"
I looked away, because watching that patient, grown-up look in his eyes was uncomfortable to say the least. "One of my goals in life is, just once to have a woman look at me the way you watch Jean-Claude. The way you and Jean-Claude watch Asher. The way you watch Nathaniel. The way Nathaniel looks at you."
"You left Micah off the list."
"You and he have this comfort level that you don't have with any of the others, but it's almost as if the comfort comes at the expense of something else."
"What?" I asked.
"I don't know, I've never been in love, how should I know."
"So, what, I'm not in love with Micah?"
"That is not my question to answer."
"I cannot be in love with four men at once."
I looked at him.
"It's not a rule," he said.
"It would be ridiculous," I said.
"You fought Jean-Claude, because you were afraid of him. Then Richard came along, and I think you loved him, really loved him, and that scared you, so you backed off. I think you dated them both to keep from falling in love with either of them."
"That's not true."
"Originally, Jean-Claude said he'd kill Richard if he didn't get a chance to woo me too."
"And why didn't you just kill Jean-Claude then? You don't tolerate ultimatums, Anita, so why tolerate that one?"
I didn't have an answer for that, or at least not a good one.
"Richard grows more distant, more caught up in his own personal angst, which leaves the field open for Jean-Claude. So suddenly you have Nathaniel bunking with you. I know, I know, he's your pomme de sang,your house leopard, but it was still interesting timing."
I wanted to tell him to stop, to not say anymore, but he didn't, he kept on. I'd never thought of Jason as relentless before.
"Somewhere in all this, Asher comes up on the radar, maybe it's Jean-Claude's old memories, maybe not. But whatever caused it, you're drawn to him, but he's so full of anger that it's not a threat. He's almost as full of self-loathing as Richard is. Then suddenly Richard walks away for real this time. You're left with just Jean-Claude, and Nathaniel, but Nathaniel isn't enough of a romantic threat to keep Jean-Claude at bay, and suddenly there's Micah. Out of the blue, instant lust, instant housekeeping. You have Micah, and now Jean-Claude is back to sharing you with someone else, and you're safe again. You can't fall madly in love with Jean-Claude, or anyone else, because you've divided your world up into different parts with each of them. Because no one man has your whole world, no one man can rock your whole world."
I got out of the bed, tugging the sheet around me like a robe. I suddenly didn't want to be naked in front of Jason anymore.
"I thought it was all accidental, and it was, and it wasn't. You're terrified of belonging to just one person, aren't you?"
I shook my head. "Not of belonging to just one person, Jason, of wanting to belong to just one person."
"Why, why is that so frightening to you? Most people spend their lives wanting exactly that, I know I do."
"I loved someone once with my whole heart, and he stomped on it."
"Please, not the fiance in college. Anita that was years ago, and he was an asshole. You can't spend the rest of your life nursing one bad experience."
I was at the foot of the bed now, wrapped shoulders to feet in the sheet. I was cold, and it had nothing to do with the temperature. "It's not only that," I said, voice soft.
"What is it then?"
I took a deep breath in, let it out slow. "I loved my mother with my whole heart and whole soul, she was my world. She died, and it nearly destroyed me." I thought about everything he'd said, and I couldn't argue with it, and I couldn't pretend it didn't make sense. "I never want to put my whole world in any one person's hands again, Jason. If they die, I won't die with them."
"So you'll hold a little of yourself back from everybody."
"No," I said, "I'll hold back a piece of myself for myself. No one gets all of me, Jason, no one, except me."
He shook his head. "So Jean-Claude gets sex, but no blood. Nathaniel gets intimacy, but not intercourse. Asher gets blood but not intercourse. Micah's getting intimacy and intercourse, what are you holding back from him?"
"I don't love him yet."
"I lust after him, but I don't love him yet."
"And Richard, what did you hold back from Richard?"
I stood there wrapped in the damned sheet, feeling the world sinking away to a small screaming thing. "Nothing," I said, "I held back nothing, and he dumped my ass."
Jason just sat there for a second or two, then he got off the bed. I think he meant to hold me, comfort me.
I put out a hand to stop him. "If you hug me, I'm going to cry, and Richard has gotten the last tear out of me that he's going to get."
"I'm sorry, Anita."
"Not your fault."
"No, but it wasn't any of my business either. I don't have the right to psychoanalyze you."
"You're just jealous," I said, and I tried to make it light, joking, and failed.
"About what?" he asked.
"That I have so many people that I could be in love with, if I'd only give that one last inch."
He sat back down on the edge of the bed. "You're right, damn it, but you're right. I am jealous, but I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't understand until the moment you said how afraid you were of being consumed. I want to be consumed, Anita. I want someone to come along and burn me up."
"You're a romantic," I said.
"You make that sound like a dirty word."
"Not dirty, Jason, just useless." I started for the door. "I'm going to get cleaned up, help yourself to the upstairs shower if you want." Jason called to me, but I kept walking. I'd had all the pillow talk I wanted for one day.