JASON MIGHT HAVE planned on being vigorous, buTHE started out slow. When I got carried away and wanted to move things along, he finally turned me on my stomach and made me touch the headboard.

Slow, Anita, we have all night. Ive never had all night with you, and I want to enjoy it. He said that with his nude body kneeling beside me.

Why is it that all of you remind me that you never get me to yourself?

Because its true.

I went up on my elbows and gazed down my body to find him at my feet with his body stretched out so that his feet were closer to me than anything else. Are all of you tired of sharing me?

Not tired, but every man likes to think a woman likes him just for himself, not because hes an extra pair of hands, an extra mouth, a spare dick.

I must have looked as shocked as I felt, because he crawled back up the bed and hugged me. Im sorry, Anita, I shouldnt have said that, I really shouldnt have.

Is that how you all feel?

He shook his head. No, I swear to you, no. Nathaniel enjoys sharing. Jean-Claude loves that you let him share you with other men, especially Asher. I dont know about Micah, he doesnt talk to me like that. Richard, well, our Ulfric doesnt like sharing anything lately.

But its how you feel, isnt it?

Truthfully, me and most of the men who only get a little of your attention. Come on, be honest, we are just extra men in the bed.

Thats not true.

If its not true for me, then why dont you ever approach me when the ardeur isnt in emergency mode?

Im with you now.

Yeah, but its a different kind of emergency. I know this is sort of mercy sex.

I dont do mercy sex. I sat up.

Oh, God, I am not in the right mindset for this.

Then maybe we should stop, I said, moving so that I was sitting against the headboard.

He hid his face in a pillow and made a muffled scream of frustration. He came up for air, and said, Maybe youre right. We should probably call Irving first and give him the real story about this trip.

You agree we shouldnt have sex right now? I made it a question.

Yeah, and maybe we should call Jean-Claude and get his approval on our plan. I guess the other masters are right. Your word is enough to get things done. Im as bad as anyone else. We dont always check with Jean-Claude or anyone else. You say jump, we jump. Richard really hates that about the wolves, by the way.

Does Jean-Claude hate it?

He hasnt said so.

I pulled a pillow into my lap and hugged it. Ill call Jean-Claude; you call Irving and tell him that the story doesnt run unless Jean-Claude approves it.

Jason nodded. Good plan. He used the landline, and I used my cell phone. I got Jean-Claude on the line while Jason was still trying to find Irving.

Jean-Claudes voice was as neutral as Id ever heard, empty. I knew that if Id been standing beside him he would have held that stillness that the really old vampires could do, as if, if you looked away they would be invisible. I wondered if you would call, ma petite.

I should have called earlier, but the reporters sort of threw us.

It was unexpected, he said, still in that empty voice.

Jean-Claude, Jason is trying to find Irving Griswold to give him the truth about why were down here. Do you think an exclusive will help?

You do not usually ask my opinion when you are far away, ma petite.

I guess I deserved that, but Jason explained some things to me, and Im sorry.

What are you sorry about, ma petite?

Im sorry that my freedom has made you look bad in front of the other Masters of the City. Im sorry that Asher and I having our little problem made you look weak in front of our guests. Im sorry that I havent included you more in decisions that affect you.

His voice held a hint of surprise. Ma petite, is this truly you?

Fine, fine, make fun of me.

He laughed then, that touchable, glide-down-your-skin laugh. I am sorry, ma petite, but you have surprised me. Give me a moment to recover.

Am I really that big a pain in the ass? No wait, dont answer that. I know the answer.

He laughed again, and it made my body shiver. Stop doing that, if you want Jason and me to concentrate on the problem at hand.

You have not had sex with our young werewolf yet? He again let me hear surprise in his voice.

We thought about it, but we thought wed try to be good little servants before we got distracted.

I do not treat you as my servant, he said.

No, you dont, and maybe I need to reward that by acting in public a little more like one.

What do you mean, ma petite? His voice had gone cautious.

First, can Jason give Irving the truth, and will it help?

He can, and it will, but wont it ruin your cover story with his father?

I guess it will, but what else can we do? Jason says that this rumor is going to make you look weak to the other Masters of the City. We have to let them know its not true.

Yes, but what can Jason say to our reporter friend that will kill the rumor, but not spoil the reason you are both there?

I glanced at Jason. He seemed to have Irving on the phone at last. Hang on a minute, I said to Jean-Claude. I got Jasons attention.

He said, Hang on a second, Irving. He put his hand over the phone.

Jean-Claude is curious what we can say to Irving that will fix the rumor but wont ruin things with your folks?

Youve met my folks now, Anita. I cant please my father, not really, not in the time hes got left anyway. My sister Roberta isnt going to be won over either. It was a good try, Anita, but weve got to tell the truth. Its more important that Jean-Claude be safe than that my family believe some lie.

Its not a lie, I said.

He shrugged. What isnt? We arent getting married. We arent leaving Jean-Claude. We didnt run away, and do some stupid Romeo and Juliet thing. It is all lies.

I touched his arm. We are lovers. You do like girls better than boys.

Yeah, but there are a handful of guys that I wouldnt mind getting up close and personal with, and bisexual is just gay lite as far as my family is concerned. He shrugged again. Well have one more visit at the hospital tomorrow and then well go home to St. Louis.

I wanted to say something, but didnt know what to say. Jason turned back to the phone and started talking to Irving.

I went back to my cell phone, which I hadnt bothered to cover. Did you hear all that?

I did, Jean-Claude said.

I feel like Ive screwed up.

You could not have foreseen these events.

I guess not, but I should have thought how the other master vamps might think you were, well, that I wasnt behaving like a very good human servant.

You are who and what you are, ma petite. I love you as you are.

I smiled, though he couldnt see it. I know that, but Jason said we need to come up with punishments for us. That you have to be seen as getting your house in order, that you cant be seen as losing control of your woman and your food.

Jean-Claude was very quiet on the other end of the phone. Sometimes it was unnerving talking to vampires on the phone. They didnt have to breathe, and the old ones had no sense of movement. I finally said, Jean-Claude, breathe or something to let me know youre still there.

The other masters see my allowing you access to my pomme de sang on a romantic trip as a weakness; if they only understood what a strength it was.

Which means that Jason is right. We need to be perceived as being punished for this, even though its not true. You need to be seen as bringing your house in order, so they dont keep thinking youre weak.

I would never have suggested it, ma petite, you know that.

I do, but now that Jason has let the cat out of the bag?

It would be helpful to my standing among the other masters.

Would you have just waited until someone made a move on you before you explained that it was my fault you appeared that weak?

That would have given me the opportunity to bring the subject up, yes.

Jesus, Jean-Claude, youve got to stop keeping this much from me.

I do not know what magic our Jason has over you, but it seems thaTHE is one of the few people who can tell you hard truths and you accept them. You are not even angry.

I thought about it. I guess Im not. I think Im too worried to be angry. Jason told me theres a hint that some of the masters think if they could take me as their human servant, they could be as powerful as you, but control me better. That kind of talk could go really badly since I travel all over the country doing my job. I needed to know that, Jean-Claude.

I thought you would see it as manipulation either to curtail your travel or to force you into a more servile role.

My ego is secure, Jean-Claude, but my safety and yours might not be if the other masters keep talking shit behind your back.

What are you willing to do to help stop this merde, this shit talk?

I havent thought that far, but Im sure you have, so either tell me now, or wait and well have this talk when we get home.

I have put some thought into things that might satisfy the perceptions of others, but not harm us in our own eyes, he said, again his voice very careful.

Is it anything we can do right this minute?


Then save it, let me digest all the news tonight. Well talk tomorrow.

And you will do what is necessary to repair my reputation?

Some of it, but if Jason was right, and he usually is, he suggested that if you were truly having sex with some of the other men, it would help repair your reputation.

The silence on the other side of the phone was thunderous.

Well, shit, I said.

His oh-so-neutral voice said, Why the exclamation, ma petite? I have said nothing.

Sometimes silence with you is louder than words, I said.

I do not understand.

Lets say that I know the quality of your silences, and that last silence means Jason is right. So Ill say this: I have no idea how the other men would feel about it, and I sure as hell dont know how I feel about it. Though Asher would probably turn cartwheels.

That is unfair; he has been very patient.

I know that. I struggled to keep the impatience and near anger out of my own voice.

Now you are angry.

Its a lot of stuff to digest, Jean-Claude, and the reporters going berserk today was a little weird. And whats up with Gretchen?

She is being punished.

The last time you put her in a cross-wrapped coffin, she came out even crazier than she went in; I dont think she can survive another round of it.

I am open to suggestions, ma petite.

You cant kill her, because it was too public, thered be too many questions.

If it had not been so very public?

Its not just me and the men that make you look weak to the other masters, Jean-Claude. Most of them would have killed Gretchen and Meng Die, already.

I could kill Meng Die; she has not made a public display.

I dont mean kill her, but they have both behaved badly and most master vamps wouldnt tolerate it. I love that you feel guilty about taking their humanity away. I love that you feel guilty that you never loved them, but only seduced them. I love that you are thathuman. But the other vamps see it as weakness, dont they?

They see me as weak for the very reasons you love me.

Well, most of them are men, they cant help being a littlemale.

He laughed, and it slithered across my skin as if hed trailed a feather across my body. Oh, God, Jean-Claude, dont do that again. Were being good over here.

You are being very, very good. He made the very, very sound utterly suggestible.

Stop that, I said.

He laughed again, and I clung to the pillow like a lifeline. I said, Do you want to raise the ardeur in me and force Jason and me to have sex?

You will have sex either way, ma petite, I know you and our Jason. Sex for the two of you is only a matter of when, not if.

Well, thank you very much.

Why should a healthy appetite for carnal knowledge be a bad thing, ma petite? It is good to know what you want and need, and to have those needs met.

Have I been keeping you from meeting some of your needs?

We have spoken enough of difficult things. When you have finished giving the truth to Mr. Griswold, then enjoy yourselves.

We were planning to, but I dont like that you seem to be rooting for it.

Would you enjoy it more if I did not give my permission?

No, I would never cheat on you.

He was quiet for a moment then he said, Je taime, ma petite.

Je taime, Jean-Claude.

He hung up, and I did the same. He always had an excellent sense of when a conversation was over. I, on the other hand, was always trying to beat a dead horse. Hed learned long ago to just leave the conversational mazes with me. Conversational mazes only worked when you had someone to talk to, but wait, Jason was still here. I could always talk the two of us into a corner after we stopped spilling our guts to Irving. Yeah, the night was young; there were all sorts of unpleasant topics we could cover.