THERE WAS A knock on the door. I thought it was food, but Jason said, I dont smell food.
I took the Browning out of my holster and went to the door in my stocking feet. I used the peephole and found that it wasnt room service. It was Chuck.
I kept the flip-bar on and opened the door just that much. I kept my gun out of sight, but in my hand against the door. What do you want, Chuck?
Now is that any way to greet me? I came to tell you to turn on the television, channel thirteen.
Its a media shitstorm, but not the one we thought wed have. Youll want to see it. He looked sort of tired around the edges.
Wait here, I said.
Id like to come in, he said.
Id like to be taller, but that aint happening either. I closed the door, gently.
He says to turn on channel thirteen.
Jason found the remote and turned on the TV. The woman wed seen earlier, who had been a fan of Jasons alter ego, Ripley, was on-screen. She was in midsentence: When asked earlier today if she had left Jean-Claude for one of his own strippers, zombie raiser and vampire hunter Anita Blake had no comment. They showed bits of the press conference and us leaving with the questions still being shouted at us. Jean-Claudes glossy was on-screen now with her voice-over: The Master Vampire of St. Louis has refused to comment on rumors that the love of his life has left him for Jason Schuyler. The picture from the website for Guilty Pleasures flashed on the screen. Jason looked pretty, well, strippery, in the picture. Cute, but the picture was not going to help squash any rumors.
I said, Shit, soft, but with feeling.
Jason went to the door and let Chuck in, then came to stand by me. Chuck stayed near the door, buTHE was watching the TV, too. It was like a car wreck; you couldnt look away, even though you knew you didnt want to see it.
Rumor has it that theyve come back to Schuylers hometown for a quick marriage so his father, who is dying of cancer, can see his only son married before he passes. It looks like Anita Blake, pinup for the supernatural set, has finally picked one of her men to settle down with, and it is a surprise to everyone, except those closest to the situation. We have a live interview from St. Louis.
A man appeared; he was standing in front of Jean-Claudes dance club, Danse Macabre. We have one of Jean-Claudes master-level vampires here in an exclusive. The camera pulled back to show Gretchen.
Shit! I said.
She was still the blond, blue-eyed bakers daughter whom Jean-Claude had seduced centuries ago. Her name had been Greta then. She was pretty, but not breathtaking in that way of most of the vamps of Belle Mortes line. But I guess Gretchen would say the same of me, if not worse. She had an almost pathological jealousy about Jean-Claude, and a hatred of me. She saw me as the only thing preventing him from being her lover once more. Even if I vanished tomorrow, he wouldnt go to Gretchen. But it was easier for her to blame the other woman than accept that the man for whom shed given up her mortality and her family inheritance didnt love her, and probably never had.
Jean-Claude had landed in this country pretty much penniless. His first few seductions had all been about financial or physical security.
She was dressed in modest club wear, because she was one of the vampires who roamed the dance floor at Danse Macabre. One of the selling points of the club was that you could dance with a real live vampire. Gretchen was the vampy equivalent of an old-time taxi dancer. You could even get tips, depending on how good a dancer you were, or how friendly you were. Gretchen wasnt making many tips. There was only one man she wanted to dance with, and he was the boss.
The reporter held the mic near her pretty face and asked, Are you surprised that Anita Blake has run off with one of Jean-Claudes strippers?
No, she said in an oh-so-reasonable voice. She could sound so sane if you didnt let her talk long enough. Shes been sleeping with Jason for months.
IsnTHE Jean-Claudes pomme de sang, his blood donor?
Yes. He donates blood to Jean-Claude and sex to Anita.
Did Jean-Claude know that they were lovers?
I dont know.
Liar, I said, softly.
What do you think Jean-Claude will do when he learns that Anita and Jason have eloped?
What would any man do if his honor and his heart were so betrayed? she asked.
None of the other vampires would speak on camera with us; why did you decide to come forward?
Here it comes, Jason said.
Jean-Claude deserves a woman who will honor him above all other men like a true wife would. Anita will never be faithful to him, never.
But shes willing to marry Jason Schuyler.
Shell cheat on him, too. She is incapable of being true to only one man. Her carefully made-up eyes were a little wider, her breathing faster. She is a whore, and whores know no loyalty.
Isnt that a bit harsh? the reporter asked, buTHE moved closer to her, as if encouraging what his words were discouraging.
She has a string of lovers. Eleven that I know about. There are probably more.
There was movement behind them, and vampire bouncers came out of the club. They went for the reporters and for Gretchen. The reporters backed up, but kept filming. They filmed as the vampires took Gretchen by the arms and started escorting her into the club. She screamed back over her shoulder, I love Jean-Claude. Ive always loved him. Anita doesnt love him. She doesnt love anyone but herself. Shes a whore, a Then they started having to bleep out what she was saying. The camera crew beat a hasty retreat, with the male reporter saying, And thats the scene here in St. Louis where the vampire community is shocked that their Master of the City has been dumped by his girl. Back to you, Candice.
Jason hit the remote and made the TV go dead. I sat down on the bed with him. My gun was still in my hand, but it couldnt help us against this. Mother of God, I said, what the hell just happened?
Phyllis Dubois helped the rumors along a little, but she didnt know that she should have helped you get a lower profile, Mr. Schuyler. I wanted to come and assure you that the governor had nothing to do with this, and did not approve this.
Jason nodded. I know he didnt. He would never want me in the spotlight at the same time as his sons. I know that.
I looked from one to the other of them, with that feeling that I was missing something.
Chuck looked at me; his eyes glanced at the gun in my hand. You always answer the door with a gun in your hand?
Most of the time, yeah, I said.
He almost smiled. The governor sent me to tell you that anything you need to help with this mess, you have it.
Can we just deny it? I asked.
They both gave me a withering look, as if Id said something incredibly stupid. We can, Jason said, but how? How do we deny it, and make it stick? He looked at Chuck. What did the press agent do to get things this bad, this fast?
She mentioned the surprise marriage thing.
Why did she do it? Jason asked.
Chuck looked uncomfortable. Im not at liberty to tell you.
Jason stood up. Not at liberty to tell me? You have no idea what you have just done. Jean-Claude isnt just my boss, hes my master. Im his blood whore. He is not going to be happy about this.
In my head I thought, Hes going to have to punish Gretchen for what she said. The last time they put her in a cross-wrapped coffin, shed come out crazier. If she went much crazier she wouldnt be safe out in public. In the old days before vamps were legal citizens he would simply have killed her, probably. A lot of masters would have anyway, but if she vanished now the police would ask questions. Shit.
What can we do? I asked everyone and no one.
You need to leave now, Chuck, Jason said. Anita and I need to talk.
The governor wants to offer his help.
Just go, give us your cell phone if you want, but we need to talk in private.
He looked at Jason, then at me. I was no help to him. I said, You heard the man, get out.
If you want to wait in the hall you can, but we need some privacy, Jason said.
Chuck scribbled a number on the back of a business card. Ill go to the hotel bar; call when youre done discussing it.
Jason took the card without really looking at it. I motioned at the door with the gun. Get out, Chuck.
He went. Jason locked the door behind him. He came to stand by me at the foot of the bed. Weve got to help Jean-Claude clean this up.
What do you mean, help Jean-Claude? Isnt it you and me that are in the mess?
This story is going to cause Jean-Claude to lose serious face among the other Masters of the City, Jason said.
When we come back not married, theyll know it was all lies.
If you were a normal human servant you would have a lot less freedom, Anita. Some of the masters see your freedom as Jean-Claude being sort of pussy-whipped.
What the hell are you talking about?
Jason held his hands out, as if to say, Dont shoot the messenger. Remember, most of the masters are men and most of them come from an age when women knew their place, so theres that problem, but most of them also see human servants as very much servants.
Are you saying that Im making Jean-Claude look bad in front of the other masters?
Remember when Jean-Claude invited all the main Masters of the City thaTHE sort of trusted to the big party?
They were supposed to meet you that night. They had brought pomme de sang candidates for you to taste.
The entire thought of it all had made me so uncomfortable that Id dreaded the night. The idea was that I could simply dance with each candidate, turn them down as not my cup of tea, and be done with it. That way I didnt have to be alone with any candidate, and I could politely refuse them all. It had seemed like a good plan until my version of the ardeur had shown itself so unpredictable.
We decided I was too dangerous to taste the candidates. I would have been introduced to everyone, but that would have been it.
But you never even got to be introduced, did you?
You know I didnt. I sounded sullen even to myself.
Jason went down on his knees in front of me. Dont be mad, but dont you see how it made things look for Jean-Claude? He had commanded his servant to do something and she didnt. You didnt even bother to make the grand entrance with him.
I was a little busy, I said.
I know you and Asher were confronting some very bad vampiresthe leaders of the vampire dance troupe that had damn near rolled every Master of the City in that audience. Jean-Claude and you, and Auggie, saved the day, kept them from eating us all. He put his hands over mine.
Asher and I were negotiating with the leaders.
Yes, and the other masters were okay with that. Jean-Claude did it deliberately to show how much he trusted Ashers powers.
I widened my eyes at him.
Asher is seen as weak, Anita. A very weak second-in-command, there only by the grace of love and centuries of friendship.
My hands were still under his. He was touching me, but I wasnt touching him back. I didnt like this conversation and I really didnt like that Jason was beating around the bush. He was leading up to something. The more careful he was, the more I was certain I wouldnt like it.
Asher proved himself when Jean-Claude nearly died in December.
Jason nodded and squeezed my hands; when I still didnt respond he dropped his hands away from me, and just stayed kneeling. He was ruthless and effective, and he surprised a lot of people.
Not me, I said. I knew he was tougher than everyone thought.
So tough he nearly killed you.
I stood up and walked a little distance away from him. Jean-Claude told me to feed and go meet the other masters.
Asher was food, I know that. But food doesnt usually bite back.
Youre creeping up on some idea here, Jason. Its not like you to play twenty questions so gently. You usually go straight for the meat of the problem.
He stood up. Okay, if you dont like the gentle approach, we can skip to the point.
I wish you would.
He gave me a look. Liar.
All right, I dont want to hear your point, because I think I wont like it, but Id rather just hear it and get it over with than have this long lead-up.
Jason made his point, holding up a finger for each part of it. You have more freedom than any human servant is ever allowed. You dissed the other masters when you didnt appear for the party, especially when they knew you were having sex with Asher. You bailed on your master to fuck one of his underlings.
It wasnt like that, I said, but felt myself beginning to blush anyway.
Im telling you how it seemed to them.
Jean-Claude never mentioned thaTHE was having a problem with the other masters because of it.
And if he had, it wouldnt have made any difference. You are who you are, he accepts that. Jason sat on the edge of the bed closest to me. He loves you, Anita. Hell, in his own way, he loves us both, buTHE cannot let this story stand, Anita. He cannot be perceived as so weak thaTHE cant even control his woman, and his food.
But its not true, Jason. We havent run off together. We arent getting married.
But its a really good rumor, Anita. Everyone loves a good rumor, even master vampires.
Has Jean-Claude been having trouble with rumors like this before? I asked. I got up and moved to the middle of the room toward the door. I was pretty sure Jason wasnt done with his revelations, and being closer to the door made me feel better. I always feel better when I know where the exit is.
Anita, some of it isnt rumors, its fact.
What do you mean?
He does let you sleep with men other than him, while he isnt allowed the same privilege with other women.
I stared at him. So if I let Jean-Claude sleep around, his reputation would be better among the other masters?
I shook my head. If you have a point, youd best be getting to it.
If you and Jean-Claude were simply not monogamous, then the other vampires could understand it. You have no idea the world-class talent Jean-Claude has turned down lately.
I dont know what youre talking about.
The other masters keep trying to send him gifts.
What kind of gifts?
You know what kind.
I havent noticed a bevy of strange women at the Circus lately.
They start with pictures on the computer or home movies. Theyve decided that if he could see them in action and pick the ones he likes best, he might take some of them into his group.
He never mentioned any of this to me.
Why should he? He knows you would never share him with another woman. He waits a polite amount of time, then turns them down.
Does he watch thestuff?
Sometimes, enough so he can answer questions when they call and ask him how he liked what she did in this or that scene.
Vampire porn is a growing business, Anita.
I shivered. I wasnt aware of that.
Auggies been branching out into it, as a legitimate business.
Legitimate. I made it sound like I felt.
Legal, then. Jason seemed tired.
I had a thought, and I let it go all the way through. Does Jean-Claude want to sleep with other women?
Hes never mentioned it to me, Jason said.
Then why are you mentioning it to me?
Because this story is going to need some punishment.
What, the lies about us?
What do you mean, punishment?
Jean-Claude is going to have to be seen as regaining control of you and me, Anita.
Thats insane. We arent out of control.
Arent we? Youre here alone with me. We are lovers. Youre meeting my family. Most people will consider all that pretty serious.
Are you saying that Jean-Claude will have to appear to punish us for something we havent done?
Jason nodded, and he was way too serious about it.
Thats crazy. Jean-Claude wont punish us for something we havent done.
No, he wont, Jason said, voice soft.
I came to stand in front of him, arms crossed over my chest, then had to shift my arms. Standing like that works so much better without breasts. Then what the hell are you talking about?
Im saying that we need to come up with punishments for him to use on us.
I shook my head. You are making no sense at all.
Im making a lot of sense. You have no idea how badly your behavior at the party affected your masters standing among the rest of the vampires.
I didnt mean for
You didnt mean to have sex with Asher?
No, I mean, yes. I sat down on the bed beside him. I dont know what I mean. Neither Asher nor I meant for things to go so wrong. It got out of hand.
Which is why you and he arent allowed to be alone together anymore. The other masters saw that as fitting punishment, but expected more severe punishment for Asher. That made Jean-Claude look weak, too.
How serious is this, Jason?
Jean-Claude has to be seen as bringing his house back to order. He must do things that make him look strong to the others.
Are you seriously saying that some other master might challenge Jean-Claude for his territory, just because of this rumor?
Remember, Anita, most of these guys come from a time when if a man couldnt control his wife, he was seen as less than a man. There are vampires out there who are beginning to think that its not his power, but yours that makes him strong.
Im his human servant, Jason.
Yes, a human servant with her own vampire servant, and her own animal to call. An animal to call that is a different animal from her masters.
It gives Jean-Claude a hold on the leopards, too.
No, it doesnt. Micah and his leopards answer to Jean-Claude out of courtesy and Micah knowing a good thing when he sees it, buTHE is not drawn to Jean-Claude. Hes drawn to you, just like all the other big cats. Thats your energy, not Jean-Claudes.
But Im drawn to the wolves.
Youre metaphysically tied to Richard, our Ulfric, our wolf king, too. So whos to say that its your tie to Jean-Claude that gives you wolf or your tie to Richard?
Im still missing something, arent I?
Jean-Claude heard a whisper, not even a rumor yet, that some of the masters are speculating that if you were their human servant they could be as powerful as Jean-Claude, but they would be strong enough to keep you in line.
They would, would they? I said.
This isnt funny, Anita.
It wasnt like Jason to discourage any attempt at humor on my part. Things were bad, maybe much worse than I knew. Im sorry, Jason.
He smiled at me. Its okay, you cant know what you arent told.
Why would Jean-Claude not tell me?
Because you arent going to change. He doesnt even want you to change, really, but we have to find a way to change the perceptions of what is happening in St. Louis.
Stop discouraging the rumors that have Jean-Claude making love to all your men. If you shared them with him, then it would explain his patience.
But its not true.
He gave me a look.
A master vamp can smell a lie on me, if theyre powerful enough. I can control my face, my eyes, my body, my voice, but Jason, I dont know how to control the scent of my skin, or the speed of my pulse. Im not that good at lying.
Almost no one is, he said.
Then how do we lie to a bunch of Masters of the City?
Dont lie, Jason said.
What does that mean?
Let Jean-Claude share the men, or let him sleep with others.
I stared at him, openmouthed, and finally recovered enough to say, You volunteering?
He laughed then, and let himself fall back on the bed with his legs dangling off it. Ive told you before, Anita, I asked and he turned me down. He turned me down because he thought you wouldnt approve.
But you dont like men, I said.
Not generally, but Jean-Claude just gets past all the exceptions for me. Maybe its being his pomme de sang, but youd have to be a lot more purely heterosexual than I am not to think about it.
I remembered Jason telling me this, but I had put it in that box with all the other thoughts I didnt want to think.
I thought you told me you experimented with some other guy, and it wasnt your cup of tea.
Lets just say I like giving more than receiving.
I must have looked puzzled, because he sat up and kissed me on the forehead. You are terribly cute for someone who is the first living succubus in recorded history.
I am not cute.
You are, you just dont like that you are.
I dont know what I would have said to that, because there was another knock on the door. This time it was food. I wasnt sure I was really hungry anymore, but I was grateful for anything that stopped this conversation. Id had about as much honesty for one day as I could handle. I hoped Jason felt the same, but doubted it. When Jason got an idea into his head, he saw it through. Even if you didnt want to hear it.