CRISPIN SHOVED ME behind him and braced for impact. Alex Pinn, the other weretiger, was just suddenly beside Crispin. I didnt have time to decide whether that was good or bad. All I had time to do was decide that I wouldnt use the gun.

Then the blur of speed that was Richard met the wall that was Shang-Da and Jamil. They had used their own impossible speed to be there before him. The impact of their bodies hitting made enough force of wind and physical energy that it pushed against us like some kind of small explosion.

Shang-Da was yelling, Ulfric, remember yourself!

Jamil was simply trying to hold Richard down without hurting him, or being hurt. Richard was a serious weight lifter and had a black belt in karate. Holding him without being willing to hurt him wasnt going to work for long. Either they were going to have to hurt him, or he would most certainly hurt them.

Shang-Da tried again. Ulfric, please!

Richards anger fed his beast, fed his power. I couldnt breathe; I was being baked alive with his power. His wolf pouring into me, into my beast. Such rage. I knew the taste of this anger. I knew it like a well-worn shoe, or a favorite sweater. The one that fits just right and makes you feel warm and safe. That was how my anger had made me feel for years. It was the only emotion I had allowed myself. It had taken the place of sorrow, pleasure, and love. My anger had been nearly everything to me once. I thought my therapy had helped me deal with some of that bottomless rage, but now standing there I realized that maybe it hadnt been therapy. It had been vampire marks. I hadnt just shared my anger with Richard through Jean-Claudes marks; I had given it to him. A big portion of my rage had simply transferred to my reasonable, calm Richard.

I stared down at the fight on the floor. I stared down at three grown werewolves barely containing the struggling, snarling, yellow-eyed man, and I thought, This is my fault. Id known that what Richard got through me, through the marks, had been my anger, but I hadnt understood until just now what that meant. Id had years of practice before I grew up with that rage. Poor Richard had had it dumped into his lap with no practice. I knew the burden he carried. I knew exactly how he felt. Fuck.

I wanted to help him. I wanted to end this without bloodshed. I wanted a lot of things. Then everything got worse, because the ardeur stirred within me. Fuck, and double fuck.

I pushed away from Crispin. He let me, but was clearly puzzled. But not touching him made Richards power worse, harder to refuse. It felt like the wolf was trying to crawl up my throat, out my throat. I fell to my knees, the towel from my head falling away. My hair was cold and heavy around my shoulders, but the power was so hot I needed that cold. It was a good shock. A reminder that I wasnt truly wolf. I wasnt truly lupa. I wasa necromancer. But that wouldnt help me now. What was I? What was I? I wasa vampire. I just didnt feed on blood.

Id gone two days without solid food; that made all hungers harder to control. Kneeling there with Richards rage, my rage, and his power, throbbing around me, pushing at me, pulling at the furred thing that seemed stuck in my throatI needed to feed, but I didnt feel sex. All I could feel was rage, anger. So familiar, so safe.

I knew anger, I liked it; it did make me feel safe, safer than sex. Jean-Claude had taught me how to feed the ardeur from a distance at his clubs. I could do it now, though it wasnt always easy, or didnt always work, but I knew how to feed on emotion. Feed on the emotion of lust, on love, and recently Id learned that friendship is love done soft and pure. It wasnt a conscious decision. One minute I was kneeling choking on fur and power, feeling the ardeur trying to rise faster than the wolf inside me. The next moment, the ardeur was upon me. My own power chased back the feel of fur in my throat. I could breathe again. I was me again, sort of.

But the rage was still there, beating against my skin, like some old familiar friend. I opened to it. I drank it down, let it soak into my skin. I stood and let the last towel fall away. I stood nude and drank the wrath in through every pore of my body, every inch of me coated with hate. Because he did hate it. Richard hated the anger. He didnt understand it. He didnt understand it, because it wasnt his. It was mine.

I took it back. I sipped it, rolled it on my tongue, enjoyed the bouquet of it, the sweet, ashy taste of it. Oh, yes, this was a vintage of wine that I had kept in the dark, at just the right temperature for a lifetime.

I drew it out of Richard like some kind of sickness, or possession. I drew it out, and felt him grow calm, under the weight of the other men. And at the end of that calmness, I felt the wall between Jean-Claude and me shatter. The anger had been mine, but the vampire marks that had given it to Richard had been Jean-Claudes. I was trying to take away some of that mark, not on purpose, but in trying to remove what was not mine, I found my love again.

Jean-Claude looked up at me with those dark, dark blue eyes, as if the twilight sky could look back at you. He whispered, Ma petite. And with those simple words the marks between him and me were just there again. I could feel him again. I was his again. His and not hers. Though we both felt that she had left her own mark. We would deal with that another night. For that moment, there was nothing but Jean-Claudes smile, and his voice, and the sense of coming home again.