WE LET THE waiter, if thats the term for room service, put the food on the dining table. Id never been in a hotel room that had a full-size table for eating before. Since the room was in his name, Jason signed the check and figured out the tip. I just sat there and let them do it. I was thinking, or trying not to think.

The chicken sandwich wasnt bad. The French fries that came with it were excellent. Jason seemed to be enjoying his Caesar and chicken. Once I would have let the conversation stay dead, but Id grown up a little since then. Though I couldnt help thinking that the last time Id gone out of town with one of my guys it had been Micah, and we had had an uncomfortable and revealing conversation, too. What was it about being alone in hotel rooms with them? Maybe it was that whole alone thing. Maybe.

Some of the other guys in St. Louis have suggested that everyone who is a regular in my bed grows in power.

Jason looked at me, a bite halfway to his mouth. He put the fork down and looked surprised. I was going to drop the conversation, and let you think about what Id said.

I shook my head. If there is even a whisper that some of the other masters are thinking if they took me over, theyd be more powerful than Jean-Claude, we need to nip that idea in the bud. Ive had vampire marks forced on me before and I didnt like it. Ive had a Master of the City do it, a couple of times. Its pretty horrible. I so do not want to go through that, ever again.

He took a bite of his chicken and looked at me. Those spring-sky eyes showed every bit of shrewd intelligence, all the deep thinking thaTHE normally hid behind the flirting and the smiles. Youre right, but I thought it would take you a few days of thinking it through before you realized how bad it could get.

I shrugged. Maybe Im growing up, finally.

He grinned at me. You are one of the most grown-up people I know.

Whats that supposed to mean?

You have a lot of trouble letting yourself enjoy yourself. You dont play well.

I think a lot of the guys in St. Louis would say I play very well.

He actually almost looked embarrassed, but fought it off. You are an amazing bed partner, Anita, but you dont have any hobbies. You dont do anything to relax except sex.

I like going to the firing range.

He tsk ed and wagged his fork at me. Thats work, and you know it. Youre not a gun nut like Edward and his friend Otto, or Olaf, or whatever secret identity hes using.

I couldnt argue that, so I didnt try. I went back to concentrating on my food.

So thats it, you make one comment and its no more talk, he said.

Hey, I put the ball in play, you can pick it up, or you can let it sit there. Ive been brave, I restarted a conversation that I dont want to have; now its your turn.

He smiled, and put his silverware beside his plate. His salad was mostly gone. He, like most men in his age group and younger, could eat damn fast when they wanted to, or werent forcing themselves to slow down.

I still had most of my sandwich left. Of course, the French fries were crisp and yummy, which was also distracting me from the chicken. Was I concentrating on the food so I wouldnt concentrate on the conversation? Maybe, but not on purpose.

Okay, Jason said, we have to help Jean-Claude appear as powerful as he is, or more so.

How do we do that? I asked. I ate French fries while we talked. Jason had left some of his chicken and a lot of his grilled veggies.

Im not sure, but first we have to put a stop to this new rumor about us.

How do we do that?

I think we need a reporter who gets an exclusive that we can trust.

No one I saw here today is trustworthy.

I was thinking of a fellow werewolf and St. Louisian.

I stopped eating and blinked at him. Irving had to back off on all the exclusives I was giving him, because people started asking questions.

Jason nodded. I know you almost outed Irving as a werewolf by accident.

Yeah, the idea is that I wouldnt be sharing secrets with a human being. Did that last sound bitter?

Jason reached across the table and patted my hand. Apparently, it had sounded bitter. Its hard to be painted as a monster when youre still human.

I shook my head, and moved my hand away from his. I havent been straight human since I was a child, Jason. Remember, I saw my first ghost in elementary school, and called my first zombie by accident in junior high. That isnt human by most peoples standards.

People can be pretty cruel, he said. His face had gone all serious. Somehow I didnt think he was thinking about my childhood. Shit.

I stood up and came around the table to him. He gazed up at me. I kissed him on the forehead.

What was that for? he asked, buTHE smiled when he did it.

I smiled back. So youd smile.

He pulled me into his lap, and our arms were just suddenly around each other. I can think of other things that would make me do more than smile.

I give you a sisterly kiss on the forehead and all you can think about is sex.

He gave me that smile, the real version of the smile that helped separate customers from their money at the club. He could look like everyones favorite brother, or the best friend you had in college or high school; he was everyones buddy, until he got that look. The look that stripped him of the pretense of innocence. The look that let you know behind the boy-next-door charm was someone wicked who would help you be wicked, too.

The look brought my breath out in a sigh and made me lean in, not quite close enough for a kiss. Is there a reason you left food uneaten on your plate?

The lascivious look faltered. You never do or say exactly what I expect you to.

You arent the first man whos noticed that, I said, still not quite close enough to kiss.

He acknowledged that with a small nod. A too-full stomach impedes good sex.

Only if you plan to be vigorous, I said, leaning in just a little closer, so that I was staring into those blue eyes so close, so very close.

He grinned, and then that look filled his face. Oh, I plan to be vigorous, eventually.

Eventually, I said, and closed those last inches, so that his lips touched mine as he said, Oh, yes.