Cerulean Sins (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #11)



Asher came through the door, slowly, his face carefully hidden behind a fall of golden hair. He'd changed to a fresh, unbloodied shirt. It was white and the color did not suit him. "You called," he said. I froze, still hugging my knees, my pulse suddenly pounding in my throat. Yet my breath stopped for a second or two.

"We did," Jean-Claude said in that careful voice.

Asher looked up then, a glimpse of face through all that hair. I think it was the "we" that brought the reaction.

Jean-Claude had sat up very straight before Asher came to the door. He was elegant, poised, in his leather and silk.

I was still huddled on the rug at his feet, staring at Asher like he was the fox and I was the rabbit. Jean-Claude touched my shoulder, and I jumped.

I looked up at him, and he was staring down at me. "It must be your decision, ma petite."

"Why is everything always my decision?" I asked.

"Because you will not tolerate anything else."

Oh, I remembered now. "Great," I whispered.

He squeezed my shoulder gently. "Nothing has been said. We can go on as we are."

I shook my head. "No, I won't be the one responsible for tomorrow night if it goes all wrong. I won't risk him, because of my moral outrage."

"As you like, ma petite," he said, in that careful voice that said nothing.

"What has happened now?" Asher asked, and his voice wasn't quite empty, there was a thread of fear in it. With what was sleeping down the hall, I couldn't blame him.

I eased my arms from around my knees. They were stiff from holding on too tight. I tried to smooth my numb hands down my legs to touch my skirt and found only my hose. The navy skirt was too short for me to have been sitting the way I was. If there'd been anyone in the room to see, they'd have been able to tell my underwear matched it.

I got my knees under me, moving slowly, stiffly, my body tight with tension.

"What has happened?" Asher asked, and this time his voice was bland.

"Nothing, mon ami," Jean-Claude said, "or rather, nothing more."

"It's my fault," I said. I got to my feet, still moving slowly.

"What is your fault?" Asher was looking from one to the other of us, trying to read something from our faces.

I stepped off the fur, and my high heels made a sharp sound on the floor. "That you're in danger from Musette."

"You have done all you can to protect me, Anita, more than I had ever dreamt. No one challenges Musette for fear of Belle Morte. You have done what many council members would fear to do."

"Ignorance is bliss," I said.

He gave me a quick look through the shine of his hair. "What does that mean?"

I walked towards him, where he still stood just inside the door. "It means that maybe I can be brave because I don't know any better. I've never seen Belle in person. Don't get me wrong, she's impressive enough from a distance, but I've never met the real thing."

I was standing in front of him now. He had turned his face so that only the perfect half showed. He hadn't hidden himself from me this completely in months.

I reached up to touch the side of his face he'd turned away, and he flinched, jerking back hard enough to make the door rattle. "Non, non."

"I've touched you before," I said, and my voice was low, soft, the voice you'd use to talk to a skittish animal or a man on a ledge.

He turned his whole face away from me. "You saw the paintings. You saw what I once was, and you have seen now what I looked like when the . . . wounds were fresh." He turned his back, hands on the door, shaking his head. "You have seen what Belle Morte saw."

I shook my head, realized he couldn't see it, and touched his shoulder.

He flinched.

I glanced back at Jean-Claude, and his face was empty, only his eyes shown the barest glimpse of a pain so deep it had nearly destroyed three people.

I pressed my body against Asher's back, moved my arms up his sides, hugging him from behind. He froze under my touch, so still, folding himself away, going deep inside where it wouldn't hurt. I pressed my cheek against his back and held him while his body went quiet under my touch.

I swallowed past tears that I would not shed. My voice was steady, though. "I have seen you through Jean-Claude's memories long before tonight. I remember the glory of you under my hands, against my body." I molded my body against his, clung to him. "I needed no painting to show me your beauty."

A shudder ran through his body, and he tried to turn, to throw me off, but I held on, and he couldn't move away without hurting me. "Let me go, Anita, let me go."

"No," I said, "no, not tonight."

He made small struggling motions trapped against the door, like a man trying to pace a room that was only an inch wider than his own body.

"What do you want from me?" There was something close to tears in his voice.

"Join us tonight, that's what I want, join us."

He stopped his restless movements and went still again, but not like before. I could feel his heart beating against my cheek. I'd have sworn it hadn't been beating a second before.

"Join you how?" his voice was a strangled whisper.

I grabbed his shirt and used it to turn him around. He moved slowly, like trying to turn the earth against its axis. He pressed his back to the door and showed me only what remained of that perfect profile.

I pulled on the shirt, trying to lead him into the room, but he would not be moved this far. He looked past me to Jean-Claude. "I cannot do this." His voice held such pain.

"What do you think she is asking?" Jean-Claude's voice was still so carefully empty.

"She will do anything to keep her people safe, even take a cripple to her bed for one night."

I wadded the shirt in my hands and was forced to go to him, because he would not come to me. "I do want to keep you safe from Musette, and this will do it, but that's not why, not really."

He looked down at me, and there was a world in his eyes, a world of pain and need and horror, so big, so lonely. The first hot tear grazed my cheek. I spoke softly to him in French, and I understood some of what I said.

Asher grabbed my wrists and forced me away from him. "Non,Jean-Claude, not like this. It is either her desire, or it is not to be. I will not divide you from what remains of your triumvirate. I would rather spend a night in Musette's bed than weaken your power so. You must be strong while they are here, or we will all perish."

I took a deep breath, and it was as if something had pulled back from me, like a veil being lifted. I turned and glanced at the vampire behind me. "Did you do that on purpose?"

He hid his face in his hands and said, spoke, voice no longer empty, "I cannot help wanting what I want, ma petite,forgive me."

I turned back to Asher. "It isn't my desire you want, Asher. You know I'm attracted to you."

He tried to look away, but I touched his face, and this time he didn't flinch away. He let me turn him to face me again, my fingers on the edge of his chin. The skin was still smooth there, even though it was on the right side where most was ruined. It was almost as if the people that had done this to him couldn't bring themselves to ruin the perfect curve of his lips.

"It's not lust you want from me."

His gaze dropped. He almost closed his eyes, the expression on his face like a man bracing for a blow. He whispered, "No."

I went up on tiptoe, put my hands on either side of his face, one so smooth like satin and silk, but softer, the other rough, pitted, hardly feeling like skin at all. "I do love you, Asher."

His eyes opened, and they were so raw, so full of so many things that could be used to hurt.

"I don't know how much was Jean-Claude's memories at first, but whatever it began as, I do love you. Me, no one else."

"Yet you have not taken me to your bed."

"I love a lot of people that I don't sleep with. Okay, that I don't have sex with."

The expression in his eyes began to die. I realized what I'd said, "I want you to come to bed tonight, please, Asher, and not just for sleeping."

He put his hands on either side of mine. "Only to keep me safe from Musette."

I couldn't argue that, but . . . "That's true, but does that matter so very much? Does it matter that that's why?"

He smiled gently and moved my hands away from his face. "Yes, Anita, it does matter why. You will take me to your bed tonight, but tomorrow you will feel guilty and you will run away again."

I frowned at him. "You talk like I've done this before with you, and I haven't."

He patted my hands between his. "You took four men into that bed over there, four of us, yet you have sex with only Jean-Claude. You feed the ardeurfrom Nathaniel, but you have not fucked him." He let go of my hands and shook his head, laughing. "Only you could have the strength of will to sleep night after night beside such beauty and not take all that Nathaniel had to offer. I have met saints and priests over the centuries that had not your will to resist temptation."

"I don't seem to be resisting all that much anymore," I said, hands on hips.

He laughed again, smile fading as he did it. "Jason you have put firmly back into the box, marked 'friend.' But what of me? I do not wish to join you in that bed again, if tomorrow I will be merely another friend. I cannot bear it."

I frowned up at him. I'd done my best to forget what happened when Belle Morte caused the ardeurto rise months ago. Thanks to her, I'd participated in the closest thing I hoped to ever get to an orgy. No intercourse, but a lot of hands and bodies touching where they shouldn't have been. Asher was right; I'd done my best to ignore the whole thing. Ignore it hard enough, and it never happened. But of course it had happened, and I'd not dealt with it.

"What do you want me to say? I'm sorry that I'm a little squeamish about having been in bed with four men at the same time. Yeah, it embarrassed me, so sue me."

"Tonight will embarrass you, too."

"A lot of things embarrass me, Asher, I can't help that."

"You cannot help but be who and what you are, Anita. I would not change you, but I also will not be just a night of charity in your bed. I tell you I could not bear being cast out again."

I knew in that instant that he didn't mean me casting him out from our bed after the ardeur.He meant what Belle had done to him all those centuries ago. She had thrown him away like a damaged toy. After all, you can always buy more toys.

I started to pace back and forth in front of him, not looking at either of them, but doing something, anything for the nervous energy that was building up. "What do you want from me, Asher? A guarantee?"

"Yes," he said, at last. "That is exactly what I want from you."

I stopped pacing and looked at him. "What kind of guarantee? That I won't freak out about this tomorrow?" I shook my head. "I'm sorry, I can't promise, because I don't know how I'll feel."

"What will Micah say, if he finds out you've been with me?"

"Micah is okay with it."

Asher looked at me.

"I know, I know, I keep waiting for him to pitch a fit about something. He's fine with sharing me with Jean-Claude, and Nathaniel, and, I quote, anyone else that you need to include,' unquote."

Asher widened eyes at me. "My, isn't he understanding."

"You have no idea," I said. "When he came into my life, he said he'd do anything to stay with me, anything to be my Nimir-Raj. So far he's meant it."

"He seems perfect for you," Asher said, voice full of a soft irony.

"I know, makes me wonder when the other shoe will drop and he'll turn on me."

Asher touched my face, which made me look at him. He was looking full at me now, those ice blue eyes so sincere. "I would never want to do anything that would damage what you have built in your life. If we do this and you run away, then Jean-Claude will have damaged his relationship with you, and I will leave."

I felt my eyes go wide. "What do you mean, you'll leave?"

"I mean if you take me to your bed tonight and cast me out tomorrow, I will leave. I will no longer watch Jean-Claude be in love with others while I wait. It will take time to find another Master who will want me, and probably not as a second. I know that I am weak for a master. I have no animal to call," he shook his head, "so many of my powers are useless except in intimate situations, and once," he almost touched the scarred side of his face, but let his hand fall away, "once this happened, no one would let me get close enough to use my powers on them."

He licked his lips, sighing at the same time, and that one gesture made me catch my breath. I did want him, I'd wanted him the way a woman wants a man for a long time. But lust alone had never been enough for me.

"You're saying that if we take you to our bed tonight, but I freak tomorrow, and it's only this one time, that you'll leave us?" I asked.

He nodded. He didn't even need to think about it.

"You're giving me an ultimatum, Asher, I'm not good at ultimatums."

"I know that, but I have to protect myself, Anita. I cannot live this close to heaven and not be allowed inside. I think it will drive me mad in the end." He leaned back against the door and looked past me to Jean-Claude. "I have been thinking for some months now that I should go. It is too hard on all of us. Know that it has healed some of the wounds to be with you as a friend again, Jean-Claude." He turned and smiled at me. "And seeing the way you watch me has helped, more than it's hurt, Anita." He turned, put his hand on the doorknob.

I put my hand flat on the door, holding it.

Asher looked at me. "Let me go, Anita, you know you don't want this."

"What am I supposed to say to that, Asher? That you're right? That if Musette hadn't come today that I wouldn't be making this offer now? You're right, I wouldn't be." I pressed myself against the side of the door. "But the thought of you leaving, of never seeing you again . . ." I shook my head, and damn it if I was going to cry again. "Don't go, please, don't go."

"I have to go, Anita." He touched my shoulder, tried to move me out of the way so he could open the door.

I shook my head. "No."

He frowned at me. "Ma cherie,you do not love me, not truly. If you do not love me, and you do not want me, then you must let me go."

"I do love you, and I do want you."

"You love me as a friend, you want me, but you want many men, yet you do not give yourself to them. I have all eternity, but my patience is not good enough to out wait you, ma cherie.You have defeated me. I would have tried to seduce you, but . . ." Again he almost touched the scarred side of his face, but his hand fell away, as if he could not bare to touch himself. "I have seen the men you have turned down. Such perfection, and you walk away without so much as a regret." He frowned as if he didn't understand it, but he knew it to be true. "What could I offer that they could not?"

He put his hands against my shoulder and gently tried to move me out of the way. I pressed my back into the doorframe, my hand on the doorknob. "No," was all I could think to say.

"Yes, ma cherie,yes. It is time."

I shook my head. "No." I pressed my back into the door so hard that I knew I'd be bruised in the morning. I couldn't let him go. I knew somehow that if he opened that door, we would never get another chance.

I prayed for words. I prayed to be able to speak my heart and not to be afraid. "I let Richard walk out on me. I think he'd have gone anyway, but I just sat on the floor and watched him go. I didn't stand in his way. I figured it was his choice, and you can't hold someone if they don't want to be held. If someone really wants to be free of you, you have to let them go. Well, fuck that, fuck that all to hell. Don't go, Asher, please, don't go. I love the way your hair shines in the light. I love the way you smile when you're not trying to hide or impress anyone. I love your laughter. I love the way your voice can hold sorrow like the taste of rain. I love the way you watch Jean-Claude when he moves through a room, when you don't think anyone's watching, because it's exactly the way I watch him. I love your eyes. I love your pain. I love you."

I closed the distance between us, wrapped my arms around him, pressed my cheek to his chest, dried tears on the silk of his shirt, and was still whispering, "I love you, I do love you," when he raised my face and kissed me, really kissed me, for the very first time.


We broke from that gentle kiss, and I led Asher to the bed by the hand. He pulled back, coming like a reluctant child.

Jean-Claude stood by the bed, his face as blank as he could make it. "There is one thing I must say before we begin. I am controlling ma petite's ardeur,but there will come a point in all this where I will lose control. I cannot guarantee what will happen when that control is lost."

Asher and I stood beside him, holding hands. He was clinging to my hand with a fierceness that was almost painful. His voice did not show the tension I felt in his body. "If I thought it was only the ardeurwhich made Anita want to take me to her bed, then I would say no, because when the ardeurhad cooled, she would cast me aside as she did before." He raised my hand to his lips and laid the softest touch across my knuckles. "I believe Anita wishes me in her bed. The ardeurmay rise, or fall, it is all the same to me now."

Jean-Claude looked at me. "Ma petite."

"I would rather do as much of this as possible before the ardeur,but I understand that it's going to be . . . hard on you." I shrugged. "I don't know. I know I'm committed to this, so I guess it's okay."

He raised an eyebrow at me. "You are never convincing when you lie, ma petite."

"Now that's just not true," I said, "I lie very well, thank you."

"Not to me."

I shrugged. "I'm doing the best I can here, Jean-Claude." I looked up at the ceiling as if I could see the sky through all the rock above us. "I know one thing, I want whatever we're doing done before dawn. I do not want you guys to fade in the middle."

"Ma petitestill finds it unnerving that we die at dawn," Jean-Claude said.

"What time is it?" Asher asked.

I looked at my watch. "We're down to about two and a half hours."

"Barely enough time," Asher said. And something about what he said, or the way he said it, made Jean-Claude do that masculine chuckle that only men do, and only about women, or sex. I wasn't sure I'd ever heard that sound from Jean-Claude.

I was suddenly very aware that I was the only girl, and they were both men. I know that sounds silly. I mean, I knew that already, but . . . I suddenly felt it. It was like walking into a bar and feeling all those eyes follow you as you walk, like lions watching gazelles.

If either of the men had turned that same look to me, I think I would have bolted, but they didn't. Jean-Claude crawled onto the bed, still fully clothed, and held out his hand to me. I stared at that long-fingered, pale hand, graceful even in that small movement. Asher's hand squeezed, more gently, on my other hand.

I realized in that moment that if I chickened out, that would be the end of it. There would be no pressure from either of them. But Asher would be gone, not tonight, but soon. I didn't want him to be gone.

I took Jean-Claude's hand, and he pulled me gently onto the silk bedspread. Silk is slippery when you're wearing hose. Their hands on mine kept me from slipping off the edge of the bed. They half pulled me onto the bed.

"Why is it," I said, "that younever slide off the bed when you're wearing silk?"

"Centuries of practice," Jean-Claude said.

"I recall when you weren't so practiced. Remember the Duchess Vicante?" said Asher.

Jean-Claude blushed, a faint hint of pink. I hadn't even known he could blush. "What happened?" I asked.

"I fell," he said, trying for dignity and failing, because he smiled.

"What he will not say is that he cut his chin on a silver mirror that he broke when he fell off the Duchess and her silk sheets. Blood everywhere, and the cuckold husband on the stairs."

I looked at Jean-Claude. He nodded, shrugged.

"What happened?" I asked.

"The duchess cut herself on one of the shards of glass and told her husband it was her own blood. She was a very enterprising woman, was the Duchess Vicante."

"So you both knew each other when you weren't perfectly suave."

Jean-Claude said, "No, Asher watched me learn my lessons, but he had five years with Belle before I came to court. If he had rough edges they were worn away by the time I arrived."

"I had them, mon ami," Asher said, and he smiled. I was overwhelmed with a flood of images of that smile. That smile when his hair was in long locks and the hat on his head graceful with feathers, that smile by candlelight, that smile while we played chess and Julianna sewed by the fire, that smile in a spill of clean sheets and Julianna's laughter.

It had been a long time since we'd seen that smile. We drew him to the bed, and the smile vanished. Jean-Claude swept the bedspread aside to reveal sheets a little bluer than Asher's eyes, blue as the daytime sky, cerulean blue. But Asher stayed on his knees, as if afraid to lay upon the bed. I could see his pulse thudding in his throat, and it had nothing to do with vampire or shape-shifter powers, only fear, I think.

Asher was afraid. I could taste his fear on the back of my tongue. I could swallow it, enjoy the bouquet of it, like a fine wine to whet the appetite.

The fear called to that piece of me that was Richard's beast. It roiled inside me like a cat stretching, exploring the space it was trapped in. A thin growl trickled from my lips.

"Control, ma petite,do not lose it so soon."

It was hard to think, let alone talk. I came to my knees and raised Asher's shirt, my fingers playing along his skin. I wanted to rip his shirt off and put my mouth to that tender skin. But it wasn't sex I was thinking of. Vampires may not feed off each other, but a werewolf will eat a vampire.

I closed my eyes, forced my hands away from his body. "I'm trying, but you know what happens if I push the ardeuroff too long."

"The other hungers rise, oui, ma petite.I have not forgotten."

"You can't help control Richard's beast." My voice sounded hoarse.


I looked into Asher's wide blue eyes, so afraid, so very afraid, and not of my beast. It helped steady me, but I knew it wouldn't last long, whatever we were going to do had to be done quickly.

"I want to see you nude for the first time without the ardeurriding me, Asher. But there isn't much time." I tried to draw him down onto the bed, but he wouldn't come.

Jean-Claude propped himself up on the pillows and held out his arms, almost the way you'd reach for a baby. He spoke softly in French, but I couldn't catch it all, most of it was a plea to hurry.

Asher crawled onto the bed completely, though every movement was slow, reluctant. He let himself be settled down against Jean-Claude's body, but they were both fully clothed, and the way they were sitting, they could have been in any club. It wasn't so much sexual as comforting.

I looked at the two of them and knew someone was going to have to take off some clothes. Fine. I stripped off my jacket and tossed it to the floor.

Jean-Claude raised eyebrows.

"If we keep going this carefully it'll be dawn and nothing will have changed." I had to slide off the bed to get the skirt off, and left it in a pile with my blouse. The panties and bra were a matched pair, a shiny navy satin. When I'd found them, they had reminded me of the color of Jean-Claude's eyes.

I expected to feel embarrassed standing there in my underwear, but I didn't. Maybe I'd spent too much time around the shape-shifters and their casual nudist policy. Or perhaps, it just didn't seem wrong to be undressed in front of Asher. I don't know, but I didn't question it. I climbed carefully back onto the cerulean silk, so that I didn't slide off again.

"You have truly decided to do this," Asher said, in a voice that was soft, uncertain.

I nodded, as I crawled in my thigh-high hose and high heels across the bed to them. I kept the heels because I knew Jean-Claude liked it, and he'd worn enough boots to bed for me. Turn about can be fair play.

I tapped Asher's ankles, and he opened his legs a little. I crawled between his legs, having to force my body up between his calves, his knees. Jean-Claude's legs on either side of his seemed to hold him tight against me. I was left to worm my way between his thighs, using my hips, my legs, and finally impatient, my hands, to spread him wide before me. It left me, finally, kneeling between his legs, my knees pressed up against him, which was actually a lot less erotic than it sounds, because he was still wearing his pants, and the angle was odd.

I reached for the buttons on his shirt. Asher grabbed my hands. "Slowly, ma cherie."

I raised eyebrows at him. "We don't have time for slow."

He rolled his head back so he could see Jean-Claude. "Is she always this impatient?"

"She begins like an American man, but she does foreplay like she's French."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.

"Let us help you undress, mon ami,and you will not need to ask questions, for you will know."

Asher's hands dropped away from mine, and I unbuttoned his shirt. I did do it quickly, because time was not on our side. I did not want to be in the bed with them when they died at dawn. I was still unnerved when Jean-Claude did it with me, I did not want to see it done in stereo.

Jean-Claude raised Asher up, and between the two of us we peeled the long-sleeved shirt off of his upper body. "I would love to linger on every piece of your body, Asher, but I want to see you nude before dawn. Next time, if we start earlier, we can take our time."

He smiled. "Next time, you have not seen all there is to see, do not promise until you have seen, as they say, the whole show."

I leaned into him, our faces only inches apart. "I don't believe there is anything you could show me that would make me not want you."

"I almost believe that, ma cherie,almost."

I leaned back enough on my knees to cradle his face between my hands. The difference in texture wasn't jarring, it was just part of touching Asher. I kissed him, long, slow, exploring him, softly with my lips. I drew back enough to see his face.

"Believe it." I drew my fingers down the edge of his jaw on either side, tickling nails across the smooth line of his neck, one hand mirroring the other, until I came to his chest. It wasn't hands I wanted to use there.

I kissed along the scarred edge of his collarbone, but the scars made the skin too thick, I had to move to the other side to nibble along his collarbone, to give him that safe edge of teeth.

He shuddered for me.

I moved back to the right side and kissed down until I found his nipple, stranded in all that hardness. I wasn't sure if his nipple had the sensitivity it had had before. There was only one way to find out. I licked his nipple, a quick flick of tongue and felt the skin move, contract. I used my hands to help mound that side of his chest so that I could find a mouthful of him. The scars were harsh to my mouth, but his nipple drew tight under my tongue, my mouth, and lightly, teeth. Only when I'd thoroughly explored the right, did I turn to the left. His left nipple was easier to take into my mouth, easier to tease. I used more teeth, and he groaned as I marked him, lightly, nothing that wouldn't fade within moments.

I licked down the left side of his chest, his stomach, then moved back to the right and explored the scarred flesh as I had the other, because I knew now, that scarred or not, it worked. He could feel my mouth on his skin, my fingers trailing lower. If he could feel then I wanted to give him everything I could.

My mouth came to his waist, the belt, the top of his pants. I licked from one side of his waist to the other, then came back to the right side and licked along the front of his flat stomach, so the tip of my tongue eased inside the very top of his pants, even with the belt.

Asher's voice came breathy, harsh, "You have taught her well."

"I can take little credit for it, mon ami,she enjoys her work."

I rolled eyes up at them. "Please, stop talking about me like I can't understand you."

"Our most sincere apologies," Jean-Claude said.

"Oui," Asher said, "it was not an insult."

"No, but you assume that if I'm any good it has to be because a man taught me. That's so sexist."

"We can only apologize again, ma petite."

I undid the buckle on Asher's belt, and he didn't stop me this time. I got the top fastener undone, but I've never been good at unzipping a man when he's sitting down. I think I'm always a little afraid I'll get him caught in the zipper.

"Some help here," I said.

Jean-Claude lifted, Asher helped, and the zipper came down, revealing that he was wearing royal blue bikinis in silk, what else? There is no way to get real pants off of anyone gracefully. I peeled the pants down Asher's long legs, slipped off the shoes that he was still wearing, there were no socks to bother with. He lay back, cradled against Jean-Claude, wearing nothing but the tiny blue silk undies. I wanted to snatch them away from him. I wanted to see him completely nude, it seemed more important than anything else. To finally see if the scars went all the way across.

I crawled forward and licked the edge of his stomach, so that my tongue dipped just below the waistband of the silk, an echo of what I'd done to his pants. I could feel him pressed against the thin cloth, the hardness of him brushing against my chin as I moved around his waist.

I went back to the right side and the scars that dribbled down to mid-thigh. I licked, kissed, and bit along them until he cried out. Then I did the same to his other thigh, going lower until I licked the back of his knee, and he whimpered.

Jean-Claude's voice came almost strangled, "Ma petite,please."

I looked up, the tip of my tongue still playing lightly on the very edge of the bend of Asher's knee. Asher's eyes were rolled almost back into his head. I knew things through Jean-Claude's memories that only a lover would know, such as the fact that he loved having the backs of his knees licked.

"Please, what?" I asked.

"Please, finish it."

I knew what he meant. I crawled back up until I was kneeling between their legs again. The blue silk was stretched tight, and this time it was very erotic.

I slid my fingers in the top of the silk, and it was Asher's hands that spilled eager, helping slide the silk down his hips. I pulled the silk down his thighs, but was only half paying attention, because I was staring at what had been revealed.

Scars dribbled from his thigh towards the groin like white worms frozen under the skin, but they stopped a few inches short of the groin, and he lay thick, and long, and straight, and perfect.

I had a confused image of him with the scars fresh, and he was misshapen, unable to become fully erect, twisted to one side, unable to perform.

I had to shake my head to clear the memory. I met Jean-Claude's gaze. I'd never seen him look so utterly lost, shocked, amazed. I had never seen so many different emotions flow across his face. He was finally caught between laughter and tears. "Mon ami,what . . ."

"There was a doctor only a few years ago, who thought that most of the scarring was in the foreskin, and it was."

Jean-Claude laid his head on Asher's shoulder, lost in that golden hair, and he wept, and cried. "All this time . . . all this time, and I thought it was my fault, you were ruined, and it was my fault."

Asher reached back and stroked Jean-Claude's hair. "It was never your fault, mon ami.If you had been with us when we were taken, they would have done to you what they did to me, and that I could not have borne. If you had not been free to save me, I would be dead now, along with our Julianna."

They held each other and cried, and laughed, and healed, and I was suddenly superfluous, kneeling on the bed in my lingerie. And for once, I didn't mind in the least.