A SLIVER OF light across my eyes woke me. I blinked up into a lamp. I tried to turn my head away from it and found the pillow stiff and sticky with some fluid. That made me open my eyes wider, and I found that there was a wolfman in bed with me. The long snout, the furred body, all so much taller than Jason in human form.
I had this jumbled memory of sex and him changing in the middle of it. It was a first for us, and I wondered if hed remember any more of it than I did. Why couldnt I remember?
The bed moved on the other side of me. It made me tense and turn like you do in those horror movies when you hear something and know, suddenly, you arent alone. The white-haired stripper from the party last night lay on his stomach beside me, nude. I had a confused image of him in tigerman form above me. The memory was definitely sexual. What the hell had happened last night?
I looked down at my own clothes, and it looked like theyd been torn off me. I had bits and pieces of cloth and leather clinging to parts of me, but for the most part I was nude, too.
I tried to think back to the last clear memory, but it made no sense. It was a fight. Crispin, that was the tigers name, he had attacked Jason. Jason was hurt, and I was trying to shoot the weretiger, but hed pinned my arm to the floor. Jason had gotten one of my silver knives from my free arm, and cut the weretiger. Blood on my face, so hot. Thenthen nothing. Nothing. Just bits and pieces.
Sex, andsomething. But it was as if the harder I tried to think of it, the fuzzier it all got. I remembered feeding the ardeur. I remembered sex with Jason and him shifting in the middle of it. I remembered sex with Crispin already in half-man form. The visual of him going in and out of my body was embarrassingly clear. But how we got to the sex was a blur, no, worse than a blur, missing. Shit.
Missing, something was missing, but what was it? I touched my neck and found my hair plastered to my shoulders with that clear gunk that the lycanthropes lose when they shift. The bed was thick with it. Jason had shifted on the bed, I remembered that now.
Had the ardeur risen up and stopped the fight? Had it just overpowered us? It had never done that before. Which raised the question, was Crispin our enemy? When he woke, would he try to hurt us again? Where was my gun? Where were my knives? My cross, that was it, I was missing my cross.
I needed off this bed. I needed my cross. I needed weapons. Shit. My weapons were still in the hotel safe, but my gun was here, somewhere, and at least one extra magazine of ammo, and my knives. I needed to be armed, and then Id worry about the rest.
Jason was still in wereanimal form, which meanTHE was probably still hours away from waking. Crispin was in human form, which meanTHE would wake first. I needed to be armed before that happened.
I tried to ease to a sitting position and let out a small pain sound before I could stop it. I ached deep inside my body almost up to my belly button. I knew what the sensation was: really good, but really rough sex with someone well-endowed enough to put the deep into deep fucking. Jason was very good, buTHE wasnt big enough for this. Not in human form anyway.
I glanced at him, buTHE was lying on his stomach, and I wasnt touching anyone in this bed. I wanted out.
I started easing out from between them and had to bite my lip not to make more noise. I was actually a little raw between my legs. What the hell had we done last night?
I hurt other places, too, like Id been in a real fight. My right arm had fresh claw marks covered in dried blood. From the feel of things there were other marks on my back and legs. I fought not to look for what hurt, but just to keep inching closer to the end of the bed. Once I was armed Id look at all my injuries.
I was at the end of the bed, one leg half off the edge, when I froze, staring at what lay on the floor.
A second weretiger, still in tigerman form, was curled on his side. His fur was red and black stripes. The sight of him brought a flash of memory like a broken picture. I remembered being above him, straddling him, his claws in my back. Not a fight, but sex. For the life of me I couldnt remember him in human form. I couldnt remember how, or when, he joined us. Oh, my God.
Fear ran over my skin in a cold wash. What had I done? What had the ardeur done to me? Shit, shit, shit.
Weapons, then call Jean-Claude. Someone had to know what the hell was happening. Didnt they?
I angled to the corner of the bed, where Id touch Jasons furred legs. I knew enough about lycanthropes to know that being in tiger form meant the red tiger would not be waking anytime soon, but I had the horror-movie image in my head of me stepping off the bed and him grabbing my ankle. I knew better, but still I couldnt make myself step close to his clawed hands. I climbed over Jasons unresisting legs rather than risk that imaginary grab. God, I needed Jason to shift and get closer to waking. I did not want Crispin to wake first and be the only one awake with me.
I was finally on the floor; yea! I hadnt woken either of the weretigers; double yea! I stood there a moment in the hush of the hotel room, only the sounds of the mens breathing deep and even competing with the air conditioning. I enjoyed simply not being on the bed with them. I felt a little less trapped.
Standing, I ached more, as if bruises and cuts had been waiting to tell me they were there. I ignored them as best I could while I scanned the floor for weapons.
The floor looked like a clothing store had put up a fight and lost. I saw the remnants of Jasons blue shirt tangled with a mans white dress shirt. Jeans lay beside dress slacks. A mans suit jacket lay whole and untouched near the doors, as if when the red tiger hit the door he had immediately taken off his jacket. It had to be his, unless another man was hiding in the room somewhere.
I really wished I hadnt thought of that. I pushed the thought away and concentrated. One problem at a time. Finally, in a tangle of my shirt and jeans I glimpsed my shoulder holster, which meant the Browning couldnt be far behind. I walked toward it, and it hurt to walk, as in I had to fight not to limp or put a hand over my stomach as I moved. Fuck. Something was wrong with my back, too, as if some muscle or other was hurt.
Kneeling was an experience in controlled movement and not reacting to everything that hurt. I knelt on carpet that was stiff with dried fluids, and tried not to think too hard about what some of those fluids might be. I remembered now that this was where I lost most of my clothes. I checked the Browning to make sure it was still loaded as the memories washed over me. Crispin and Jason and I on the floor. Thered been no more fighting. Whatever the fight had been about, theyd shared me just fine. Oh, God.
I remembered sex with the weretiger here and on the bed. Jason had lost human form here during sex, too, but I also remembered sex on the bed with him. Dear, God, what in hell had gone wrong with the ardeur?
With the gun in my hand I felt a little better, a little more myself, but I had still woken up in a hotel room with three men, two of them strangers, and apparently wed had sex. Lots of sex, and I could remember only bits and pieces of it. That had never happened before with the ardeur. I was supposed to be gaining control over it. I looked at the wreck of the carpet and finally back at the bed and the men there. This was so not gaining control of anything. No, this was definitely losing control.
I was digging through the clothes trying to find my cross when there was a sound from the bed. It froze me; I held my breath like an idiot. All wereanimals could hear a heartbeat, and there was no way to hold that.
The sound wasnt repeated, so I went back to searching and found my cross. The chain had been snapped. Damn. I gripped it in my hand and that was a little better. I felt that prickling energy of lycanthropy, like a wash of electricity across my skin. I turned to the bed, gun pointed. No one moved, but one minute Jason was all movie wolfman and the next his wolf body was melting away and his human body rising up through the receding fur like an island rising from the ocean. The larger wolfman body melted back into the more compact human form. He was still probably a couple of hours or more from waking, but it was progress.
If it had been Micah, or Richard, or a few others, they wouldnt have had to pass out for hours after the change, but Jason and apparently the two tigers werent powerful enough not to fall into the coma just before the shift and just after. OrI lowered the gun, having thought of another awful possibility.
Had the massive ardeur feeding taken too much of their energy? It was possible to drain someone to death with the ardeur. Logically, I knew that if they died they would revert to human form. But fears like this have nothing to do with logic. I suddenly went from afraid of the two weretigers to wondering if Id killed them. No, no Id seen Crispin and Jason breathing. Id heard it. But I hadnt really looked that closely at the red tiger. I stared at him now, trying to see the rise and fall of his chest.
I actually held my breath trying to see that wide striped chest move. I thought for a heartbeaTHE was dead, and then his body moved with his breathing. I let out the breath Id been holding in a long sigh.
The bed moved as someone shifted position. I knew who it had to be before Crispin rose up on his arms and blinked blue tiger eyes at me.
I pointed the gun at him, two-handed, and the move was too fast. It pulled on the claw marks on my arm, and hurt like a son of a bitch. I held the pose, but had to fight my body to do it. I told him, Dont move!