JEAN- C LAUDE DIDNT SO much whisper, as I just knew, thaTHE was going to have to shield from my feeding. He could not drink anger as he could lust or love. Anger was not his food. It was mine.
I stood there with my hair still cold against my shoulders, so not much time had passed, but it was one of those moments when minutes turned to hours. I drank back in my anger, but it didnt stay. It didnt go into that dark pit inside me, where my grief and rage fought and mingled. I ate the anger as I could eat lust and love and hearts desire. I swallowed the anger like food. But whereas lust confused me, and could get out of control and spread through me and to those near, angerI was master of that. Anger I could control.
I stood there with my skin tingling with the energy of it. My body thrumming with the feeding. I wasnt just full, I was well fed. If it had been the normal ardeur, Id have been forced to turn that energy into sex, but this wasnt the ardeur. This was something else. This was mine. Mine in the way that the gun in my hand was mine. Mine, not Richards, not Jean-Claudes. I had a food that my master couldnt even digest. It filled me with a fierce happiness. A happiness so sharp that it was almost anger. I was glad, so very glad, that finally I had some power, something that wasnt theirs. Jean-Claudes power was lust and love, but mine was rage. I was okay with that.
Richards voice came, clear and oddly calm. Im all right, let me up.
I saw Shang-Da and Jamil exchange a look together, and then almost in unison they moved back and let Richard sit up. Jason crawled forward, abasing himself beside him. Richard touched his shoulder, buTHE looked at me. I expected to see the anger in his face, the resentment, but for the first time in a very long time, Richard looked up at me. His face, his eyes, held the Richard Id fallen in love with, the one who had been too squeamish to kill the old Ulfric and take control of the pack. There was gentleness in his face that hadnt been there in so long that Id almost convinced myself it had never been.
Its okay, Jason, he said, its okay. He stood up, leaving his wolves on the floor to peer up at him, wariness plain on their faces.
Alex held a hand up, not exactly moving in his way, but not out of his way either. Youre calm now, Ulfric, but what we just saw wasnt calm.
Crispin moved closer to me, but I motioned him back. Richard was being reasonable; I didnt want another man to touch me right now, especially the only man in the room who was as naked as I was. Crispin took the hint and stayed where he was; he really did take directions well, that was nice.
Richards white T-shirt was so badly ripped it looked like something one of the dancers at Guilty Pleasures would have worn partway through their act. His hair had slipped free of the ponytail, so he came to me with all that thick hair in a tangle around his face. He looked, as he could look, like some walking wet dream, but the smile on his face was gentle and had less to do with sex and more to do with softer emotions.
He touched my face, staring down into my eyes with that gentle smile and his brown eyes full of something more tender than Id seen in months from him.
Thank you, he said.
I touched his hand where it lay against my face. It was my anger. I just took it back.
He let his hand cup the side of my face, and I let myself rest against the warmth of his hand. I thought it was mine to keep.
It may leak over again, I said, softly.
He leaned down, and I knew he meant to kiss me. I wanted that kiss, and didnt want it, all at the same time. Id cut him out of my heart, this new angry, hurtful Richard, but the look in his face now, that was the old Richard. Richard before hed been forced to make so many hard choices. Richard before he had become permanently angry with me.
He kissed me, his lips soft and full. It was a good kiss, but chaste by our standards of late. I realized as he drew back, eyes searching my face, that lately when we were together it had become nothing but sex. Harsh, fun, but harsh. He had come to me rough, because he knew I could take it, and like it, but even the sex had been more about anger than love. Makeup sex can be good, but not if its all you do.
I feel more myself than Ive felt in months, Anita. A lifetime of therapy couldnt have done what you just did.
If Id known I could have taken it back, I would have, Richard.
I know, he said. He took my hand in his as he turned back to the waiting wolves. I couldnt remember the last time hed simply held my hand. Hed even stopped doing it in church, so that the only touch we gave each other was in private and all about sex. Id actually begun to think I needed to go back to my old church, so thaTHE and his family could keep theirs. If we broke up for good, it would be easier for me to change churches than the whole Zeeman clan. But this one moment of holding hands made me wonder what else had changed beside him feeling more himself.
I forced the thought away. Id given up on Richard and me having the white picket fence a long time ago. He was just the one man who made me wistful about not having it. Holding his hand in that moment made me wonder yet again if I had missed the boat. Had he been the one man who might have made it all work?
The moment I thought it, I knew it wasnt my emotion, or my thought. Richard wasnt the only man in my life who made me wonder if he could have been the only one, if the ardeur werent there. But holding his hand, sensing all that emotion, I did regret. The regret was mine.
We need to find the charm, Richard said.
The three werewolves looked at him, as if they didnt trust this new Richard either. Ulfric, are you well? Shang-Da asked.
Better than Ive been in a long time, he said. His thumb began to rub across my hand.
The charm isnt on the floor with the clothes, Jamil said. He looked past Richard to me. Though we did find two of Anitas knives. One of them had blood on it.
Crispin spoke from behind us. Mine.
Richard turned to look at the weretiger, my hand still in his. Why did Anita cut you?
She didnt, Crispin said. He was looking at us, but his gaze wasnt on either of our faces, or my body. He was looking at our clasped hands.
I did, Jason said.
Richard turned back to Jason, moving me minutely with him. Why?
Can I plead the fifth on this one, Richard? Youre not mad at me anymore; Id like to keep it that way.
And you think just answering the question will make me angry with you all over again?
Jason nodded. It might.
Richard turned to me. What do you think?
I squeezed his hand and said Lets just say we all made friends eventually.
He frowned. Did the tiger attack you?
He attacked Jason, I said, and I took offense.
Richard stared down at me, searching my face. Yet you ended up in bed with him.
I frowned at him and tried to take my hand back, buTHE held on, and I let him hold on rather than struggle. Let it go, Richard, please.
Crispin said, She wants you to let go of her hand, Ulfric.
Its okay, Crispin, I said.
He shook his head. Youre a queen. Queens dont have to be touched if they dont want to be.
Richard drew me in against his body, never letting go of my hand. I put a hand on his chest, to keep us from cuddling as close as we could. I do not need to be fought over, by either of you.
According to our culture, you do, Alex said.
What are you talking about?
I know that the little wolf shares well, Crispin said, and so does the red tiger, but your Ulfric smells of monogamy and ownership.
Crispin, Alex said, you cant hold them to tiger law, if they dont know the rules.
Explain the rules to us, Richard said. He tried to draw me in against his body again. I kept one hand on his chest to keep us a little apart, because I had another flash of certainty. I just needed to get everyone else out of the room. I needed only Richard. We didnt need anyone but each other. What had I been thinking with all the others?
I gazed up at Richard, and he looked down at me. The moment I stared into the perfect brown of his eyes, all I could think of was getting closer to him.
The arm Id been using to keep us apart slid around his waist. He bent down toward me, and all I could think of was how much I wanted him to kiss me.
His skin was so warm where it touched my body; warm and smooth and simplyperfect. It was as if our bodies were meant to be together, always.
I rose up on tiptoe with my nakedness against the front of his clothes and shredded shirt. I rose up to help our lips meet, as Richard bent down. So tall, so far to reach, for the touch of his mouth, but oh so worth it.
The kiss grew from something chaste to a feeding at each others mouths. Richard picked me up, and I wrapped my legs around his waist, pressing my most intimate parts against the front of his jeans. The pain was instant, and too raw to ignore. It cleared my head better than any cold shower.
I broke the kiss and tried to climb down from his arms, buTHE held me against him. It hurts, I said.
He drew his face away enough to look puzzled, and then he let me down. He tried to make me slide down his body, but I stopped the movement in midmove, because the thought of rubbing myself down the front of something as rough as jeans made me cringe. No matter how nice the package inside the jeans might be.
He let me down onto the floor but kept his arms around me. I was back to putting my hands against his chest to try for some distance. I wasnt sure what had just happened, but it was wrong. It wasnt my thoughts.
Anita, look at me, he said.
I tried not to, but it was almost as if I couldnt stop myself. The moment I held his gaze, the thought returned. I wanted to touch him, and be touched. I wanted
Arms around my waist from behind, and I was jerked backward out of Richards arms. I was also off the ground, held against someone elses nude body. I knew it was Crispin before I saw that flash of white hair out of the corner of my eye.
Alex moved between us and Richard. Easy, Ulfric, but using magic is an unfair advantage.
Shang-Da and Jamil were on either side of Richard, but seemed unsure whether to help him against the tigers or grab him so it didnt get out of hand.
I dont know what you mean by magic, but if he doesnt put Anita down, Im going to use something a lot more solid on him than hocus-pocus.
For me, I felt better in Crispins arms, clearer-headed. I patted Crispins arm. Its okay, you can put me down.
He was trying to bespell you, the way you can do to others.
Richard said, I cant bespell anyone. Im not a vampire.
I patted Crispins arm again, and he lowered me to the ground, though he kept his arms around me, loose, but with a tension to them that let me know if I moved toward Richard again, hed stop me. On one hand, he had no right to do that; on the other, Id needed the help. What the hell was going on with Richard and me?
You bespelled me like a vampire, Richard. When you touched me, it was harder to think, and when I looked up into your eyes it was impossible. It was like the whole world was nothing except need for you.
Thats how its supposed to be when youre in love, he said.
I shook my head. Pretty to think so, Richard, but this wasnt being in love. This was obsession. The pain helped clear my head, just like it does when a vampire tries to roll me. And all vampire powers are magnified by touch. You know that.
But Im not a vampire, he said.
Me either, but I can roll people as if I am, sometimes.
Richard frowned at me, his handsome face closing down into those petulant lines. Why was it that pretty people did petulant better than the rest of us?
I felt it, too, Jason said. It was focused on Anita, but Ive been rolled too many times not to know it when I smell it.
You are all crazy, he said, buTHE looked less petulant, and more thoughtful. There was a good mind inside the pretty packaging. It was one of the things that had made me love him.
You dont carry my anger anymore, Richard, but youre still part of the triumvirate with Jean-Claude and me. Maybe when you lost the anger, you gained something else.
He opened his mouth, closed it, then said, Is that possible?
Lets call Jean-Claude and ask, Jason said.
Richard frowned at him. Why dont you shower while we call?
Jason fought to keep his face neutral. Want me out of the way?
No, but if you dont want me pissed again, I need you not to smell like you rolled in Anitas body. He looked past me to Crispin. You, too, Whitey.
My name is Crispin.
Whatever, but if you and Red here could go someplace else and clean up, that would help.
I dont know if the room we booked is even still ours, Crispin said.
I have a room that I booked for the week, Alex said. He looked at me, then at Jason beyond. It is one of the social events of the year, plus politics, and a hint of scandal. I came down here for a story, though that seems like ages ago. He looked thoughtful, shook his head, and then looked back at Crispin. Can he borrow the extra robe?
Jason started untying the sash without being asked twice. He handed the robe to Alex. Ill go shower. He just turned and went for the bathroom.
Alex handed the robe to Crispin. He didnt take it. He actually clasped me a little closer to him. If we are not here to help her escape his powers, then he will have her and chase us out.
Your word, Ulfric, that you wont touch her while were gone.
You have no right to ask that, Richard said.
No, but something is going on here, something different. You gain powers if you are a vampires animal to call, but you dont gain the powers that you and Anita are gaining. Thats not part of the deal. Yet I saw you bespell her. I felt her roll me like a cheap date. Roll me partway like a weretigress, and part like a vampire. Again, very weird.
He gazed at the floor as if the answer lay somewhere on the carpet. I need to give my paper something, or they are going to bitch about the hotel bill. They only footed it because the Summerlands are staying here. Their personal home is a museum now to the history of the family and the towns founding.
Theyre that big a deal? I said.
He smiled at me. You truly dont pay attention to the media, do you?
Not really. I moved away from Crispin, took the robe from Alex, and handed it to him.
You really want me to leave? Crispin sounded hurt. The tone of voice, something about his expression made me put him on the far side of twenty-five. Id thoughTHE was older.
I need some space, Crispin.
How old are you? Richard asked.
Crispin looked at him, then back to me as if to ask, did he have to answer him? I nodded, and he answered, just like that. Obedient, almost disturbingly so.
You do like them young, Anita.
Nathaniel is the same age.
I think thats my point, Richard said. At least Im dating people closer to my own age.
I turned and gave him an unfriendly look. If were going to fight, you can leave, too.
A look passed over his face. He had to try twice before he spoke, and the first two times didnt sound anything like whaTHE finally said. You arent safe alone.
Im beginning to not feel very safe with any of you in the room.
What does that mean?
It means that the vampire marks have gone all weird again, and I dont know why. It means Im tired. It means I hurt. It means that I need to find the charm. It has to be somewhere in the room. It means I need to get dressed. I spotted the Browning on the carpet where Id apparently dropped it when Richard had rolled me with his touch and gaze. I picked it up. I dropped my gun, Richard, and didnt remember doing it. I forgot everything but you. Love doesnt make me forget that Im armed, but vampire gaze can.
He tried to trick you, Crispin said.
Go, I said, go to Alexs room, clean up.
Can we come back here when were done? Crispin asked.
I dont know, call me first.
Im going back to work once I put in my spare brown contacts, Alex said.
You do that.
Why do you sound angry? Alex asked.
Everything makes her angry, Richard answered, before I could say anything.
I suddenly wanted to be alone. I wanted them all gone. Fuck them all, or rather, not fuck them all. Jesus, but I needed to catch my breath, and I wasnt sure I could do that with a crowd around me.
You two, out. I actually gave Alex a little push toward the door. YouI pointed at Richardbehave, or you are so out of here.
You arent safe alone, he repeated.
Maybe not, or maybe its time I found out if Im safe alone. Weve been surrounding me with wereanimals for months and it hasnt helped. Maybe I need fewer of you around me.
May I borrow a pair of sunglasses, before I go? Alex asked.
Sunglasses wont make the robe look any better, babe, Jamil said.
Its to hide the eyes, Alex said.
You must like being in your tiger form, Richard said.
I was born with these eyes, just like Crispin was born with his. One of the signs that our blood was thinning out genetically is that fewer and fewer children are born with tiger eyes.
The eyes mark us as pure bloodline of our clans, Crispin said.
Your blue eyes look human enough, I said.
If you dont know what youre looking at, yeah. He had the robe on now, though he hadnt tied it in place, so his body was framed by the white cloth. It was whiter than his skin, but not whiter than his hair.
Out, Richard said, adding, please, with a glance at my face. It wasnt a happy look.
Its not your room, Richard.
No, its yours and Jasons. He didnt have that taste of rage that comments like that usually came with, buTHE still wasnt happy. I guess I couldnt blame him, and that, right there, was part of the problem. Part of me still agreed with Richard. You were supposed to grow up, find that special someone, marry them, and live happily ever after, till death do you part. Once, Id believed that down to my toes. Now, I knew it wasnt going to happen for me. I didnt miss the wedding. Those always seemed like an expensive pain in the ass, but the concept of one single person being the be-all, end-all for youthat I missed.
Do you really want us to go? Crispin asked, and there was that wistful note in his voice that most of us grow out of by the time we get to be twenty-one.
I smiled, because that tone of voice made you either smile or want to kick someones ass. Go with Alex. Clean up. Get some clothes. Call the room, and well see how Im feeling, okay?
His face crumbled a little around the edges. Again, it was a younger gesture. I had a bad idea. Are you absolutely sure youre twenty-one?
I would never lie to you, Anita. If you really are my queen, then I wont ever be able to lie to you.
Alex took Crispins arm and started them toward the door. We need to go.
Jamil held out a pair of sunglasses. Alex looked almost startled, then took them. Thank you.
They arent cheap, so I want them back in one piece.
Alex actually looked at the side of the glasses. Dolce and Gabbana, these must have set you back a few hundred. Ill treat them like the luxury item they are, thanks again.
Jamil said, We have some people in our pack who cant go back to full human form. Its a pain in the ass.
You dont need to chat, Jamil, Richard said.
Alex gave a little bow in his direction. Good night for now, Ulfric. I am truly sorry if I distressed you.
Anita, Crispin said, please dont send me away. Please let me stay with you, please.
I knew that tone of voice. Shit.
Youve rolled him completely, the way you did Requiem, Richard said. I looked into his face expecting to see anger, but there was only something close to sorrow. Resignation, maybe.
Not a topic for company, I said.
Alex stopped them just short of the door, with the taller man, Crispin, staring back at me like a child being dragged away from the fair too soon. God, please, not another one.
This may not be vampire powers. Her call was that of a powerful tigress, a queen. Young males who have never mated before are more susceptible to the call of a queen. They are addicted to her until she chooses among them. When she chooses one over the others, then its like the pheromones, hormones, whatever, go back to normal levels and the ones she didnt pick are free of her influence.
Ive never heard of this, I said.
The only tigers Ive met have been survivors of attacks, and it doesnt work for them like that, Richard said.
Jamil and Shang-Da agreed.
But they arent born tigers. In fact, most queens will kill a weretiger who deliberately brings over a full human against their will. Its considered a great gift to be invited to join a clan when you arent born to it.
Thanks, but no thanks, I said.
If you truly sent out a call this powerful by accident, Anita, it will happen again. Its not a conscious thing always. It happens when you come into your power. Sometimes at puberty, but most of the time somewhere in your twenties. You look about the right age for it.
Im older than I look, I said.
Not by much, he said.
Crispin tugged a little against Alexs arm. Not like he meant it, but more like he didnt realize he was doing it.
Im almost thirty, I said.
You do look younger. Id have pegged you for under twenty-five.
I shrugged. Good genetics.
If you say so, buTHE didnt sound like he believed it.
Frankly, with marks of at least two vampires on me, who was I to say that I wasnt aging a little slower than normal. Not to mention that wereanimals aged slower than human-normal, too. I guess he was allowed his skepticism.
Please, Anita, Crispin said, tugging a little harder against the other mans hand on his arm.
Id seen that look in enough faces to understand it. Alex could say it was tiger magic, but it looked like what Id accidentally done to a few of the vampires and wereanimals in St. Louis. It was Belle Mortes power to be able to roll someone with lust, love, hearts desire. I had the ability to own someone. Trouble was I wasnt much into ownership. If I wanted to own something that would give me undying loyalty, Id buy a dog.
I looked into those blue tiger eyes, and Richard was right, it was the look that Requiem had given me once. Wed freed him, because he was a master vampire, and had enough power, with help, to free himself. The help had been telling him that Id never touch him again unless he freed himself. Reverse psychology, but it worked. Sort of. Requiem still liked me a lot better than I wanted him to like me.
Go with Alex, Crispin. When youre both cleaned up, call first, but I wont just cast you out. Okay?
The look of relief in his face made me a little sick to my stomach. I hadnt done this on purpose. Shit.
Why arent you as affected as he is? Richard asked.
Alex answered, I told you, it hits the young men harder. Ones who havent been mated before. Im older than I look, too.
Id say thirty, maybe a little over, Richard said.
Youre off by a decade and some change.
Do all the weretigers wear this well? I asked.
Those of us of pure blood, yes. He put his sunglasses on, then reached for the doorknob with a firm grip on Crispins arm.
So you shouldnt have been forced to answer my call, I said.
He looked back at me, his eyes lost behind the black lenses. No, I shouldnt have. Only the head of a clan can call all the unmated males regardless of age or experience. If you were a real weretiger from just one clan, it would be seen as a direct challenge to the clan leaders authority, and shed have to kill you.
But because I called to all the clans, they dont know what to do with me, I said.
Id bet that, but then Ive spent the last two days with you, here. Ill try to call my family and see what my queen is planning to do. Just like you want privacy to talk with the wolves, I want it to talk to the tigers. So well clean up. Ill make some calls. Well call you, and well go from there. Hopefully, Ill drop Crispin off here, then go to work.
Why hopefully? I asked.
I may not be looking at you with big doe eyes, but trust me, girl, I do feel it. Youve rolled me, make no mistake about that, but I am Li Da of the Red clan, son of Queen Cho Chun. If Id been female I would have been groomed to lead after her. But even being just a man, my bloodline means something. It gives me certain protections from the powerful bitches. My mother has conspired for years to get me close enough to one of the clan queens to be called to breed. Shell be thrilled that you managed to get through all my shields. Baby or no baby, shell invite you to join our clan, because once youve broken a male tiger to your call this roughly, I cant really say no. Not if you force it. His voice was so bitter that it almost hurt to hear it.
I dont know what I would have said to all that, but Shang-Da saved me from having to say anything. You dont look Chinese or Korean.
We never did. Its one of the reasons they were able to kill us off. We couldnt blend in. Those of us who escaped to other countries were forced to intermarry with the humans we found. There havent been pure Chinese bloodlines since the time of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
The emperor who unified China and burned all books thaTHE didnt agree with, Shang-Da said.
Yeah, that one, Alex said.
Thats more than two thousand years ago.
Clan tigers talk about going home the way that Jews talk about the Holy Land. We are in exile, and as long as the communists rule we always will be. A few of us went back when the emperors were overthrown, but the communists saw us as western spies. They killed us along with their rebels.
My family has never spoken of this, Shang-Da said.
The emperor destroyed any writings about us.
The fox people still live in the homeland. Hidden, but they are there.
Are the dragons still there?
No, Shang-Da said, the last of them fled when the communists took over. Communists may not believe in God or magic, but they hired wizards to clear the land of rebels. Rebels were anything non-human.
I knew that dragons in China werent just animals like they were in most of the rest of the world. In China theyd been shapeshifters; people. I didnt say it out loud, though. If I kept my mouth shut they might just keep talking. Sometimes if people forget youre there, you learn more. Silence can be a greater asset than any question.
So we are all in exile.
As you say, there are still fox people there, but they hide in plain sight.
They can look like everyone else, Alex said.
Yes, Shang-Da said.
Crispin was looking from one to the other of us. He almost looked like the history lesson was as new to him as it was to me. Interesting.
Las Vegas is our home. We dont talk about going anywhere else, Crispin said.
Alex looked at me, then back to Crispin. We need to go and clean up. Lets try to avoid any of my fellow reporters. I really dont want to have to explain why Im coming out of this room in a robe, with another man in a robe.
Homophobic? I said.
He shook his head. Being considered bisexual would be fine, but Crispin is a known weretiger. Your boyfriend in the shower is a known werewolf. Its not my sexual preference Im trying to hide.
Ive got another friend whos a reporter who basically said the same thing.
He leaned in toward the door and drew in a long breath of air. I smell the guards, but no one else. Well go and take the stairs.
Alex opened the door. Crispin moved as if to come farther into the room again. Alex took hold of his arm and pulled him toward the partially open door.
Crispin pulled against the other mans arm. He looked at me. His face was raw with need, and something else. Was it fear that I saw in those blue eyes?
Come on, Crispin, we need to clean up. I think I may even have some clothes that will fit you.
Crispin stayed at the door, staring at me. I knew what the look was now. Pain, fear, and longing, all on his face, so raw that it hurt to see it.
Youve rolled him, Richard said.
Not on purpose.
No, but unlike some of the others youve accidentally rolled, this one is He shook his head. Young.
I knew whaTHE meant. It wasnt the actual age. Twenty-one was plenty grown-up. Requiem had been several hundred years old when I accidentally bespelled him. That gives a man a lot of character to draw on, to help him break free. As Alex Pinn had said, it hits you harder when youve never been called before.
I sighed and went to him. He smiled at me in a way that you never want a stranger to smile. Too warm, too damn happy. It frightened me. Id made Requiem break free of my powers, buTHE was a master vampire. He had his own power. Crispin was a weretiger, but there was no feel of power to him. I wasnt certain he had enough of him inside yet to break free of me, and without his willing help, I didnt know how to free him of what I and Marmee Noir had done. Shit.
Crispin touched my arm when I was close enough. I didnt try to stop him. But the momenTHE touched me, I thought, why did I want him to leave? It was silly. He could stay, of course he needed to stay. He was my tiger, my white knight, my
I jerked back from him. I ignored the hurt look on his face. Go with Alex. Clean up, get some clothes. Or see if your vampire friendLucian, right?is still here.
See if hes still in the hotel. Your own luggage might be here somewhere. Your own clothes. Go, do what I ask.
Can I have a good-bye kiss?
Richard and I said, No, at the same time.
I glared at Richard, but said, Alex, get him out of here.
I kept my face turned away as the tigers left. I went across the room to the luggage. I needed clothes.
What happened when you touched him just now? Richard asked.
I didnt want him to leave. It was like a lighter version of what you did to me when you were projecting your emotions all over me. I thought it was just you, but if Crispin did it, even a paler version, maybe its something that Marmee Noir did to me.
What? he asked.
I dont know. I laid the Browning beside the suitcase, and started pulling clothes out.
You need to know what she did to you. This from Shang-Da.
I was surprised thaTHE cared enough to comment. I need to call Jean-Claude.
Cant you just open the marks? Richard said.
Yeah, but when I fed off your anger, he shielded. He wasnt sure how to digest anger. I think the phone will be safer.
Youre afraid whatever is happening will leak onto Jean-Claude, Richard said.
Yes. I had enough clothes to make me happy. Now I just needed to change. If it had just been Richard, I might have simply gotten dressed, but I didnt want to dress in front of Jamil and Shang-Da. I know it sounds weird. I mean I was naked in front of them, and they were cool about it. So why was getting dressed more intimate? I dont know, it just was. I dont like men who are not my boyfriends watching me put on clothes. Theres always a moment when they let you know with their eyes that they are watching, and not in a completely neutral manner. Or maybe not, maybe its just my hang-up, but regardless, I wanted privacy.
Why go into the bathroom to dress? Richard said.
Either I go into the bathroom, or Jamil and Shang-Da go into the hallway.
Youre already naked, Anita, Jamil said, we cant see more.
I shrugged. Humor me.
The men all exchanged glances, and then Jamil said, Do you want us in the hallway, or her in the bathroom?
I dont want her alone with Jason in the shower.
I might have protested that, but we all have our weakness. Seeing an attractive man all wet was one of mine.
Jamil went for the door, and Shang-Da trailed him. No one argued. The door shut behind them, and we were suddenly alone. The silence was thicker than it should have been.
I glanced at him, and there was that look in his eyes. That look that was very Richard. He was such a Boy Scout most of the time, such a good son, a good boy, a good teacher, a good man. Then, sometimes when we were alone, hed look at me with those dark eyes. That one look that said underneath all the goodness was someone who liked to be bad. Someone who understood the darkness in me, as well as the light. If he hadnt hated the darkness in his own soul so terribly much, I could have loved him forever. But you cant love someone who hates himself so much, and hates you for loving the parts of himself thaTHE hates the most. Its too complicated a dance to ever win.
I ignored that dark look, and tried my best to pretend he wasnt there. I actually turned my back on him to dress. It worked for a while, and then I felt him behind me, close behind me.
I turned in time to keep his outstretched hand from touching me. I had jeans on, and a bra, but the shirt was still on the bed with my gun.
Anita, he said.
Dont what? he asked.
I closed my eyes so I couldnt see him. That always made it a little easier to turn away. When you touched me earlier, it was like magic. If it hadnt hurt, or Crispin hadnt pulled me away, I would have let you do anything. Its not real. Its some metaphysical problem.
How can you say that? he said, and his voice was closer. He moved so close that I could feel the heat of his body against my bare skin. It wasnt his otherworldly energy I was sensing. It was just him.
I stepped back, eyes still closed, and nearly knocked the bedside lamp over. We both grabbed for it, and it put his body next to mine. His hand over mine around the lamp. We had one of those frozen, awkward moments.
I looked up at him, and he was so close, too close. He bent in to close that distance and kiss me. I threw myself backward onto the floor, knocking the trash can over, as I crab-walked back until my back hit the bathroom door hard.
Richard, please, please, dont you feel that somethings wrong? Were always attracted to each other, but not like this.
I think if I touch you now, that youll just say yes.
Exactly, I said.
I want you to say yes.
Yes to what, Richard?
Everything, he said.
So now that you have enough metaphysical abilities to roll me, youll just do it. Youll roll over my free will and just make me into your little pet?
He frowned. Its not like that, Anita. Im not making you feel things you dont feel. The emotions are real.
Maybe, but they arent the only emotions Im feeling. Youre trying to take away my choices, Richard.
He knelt in front of me. My heart thudded against my chest, and I pressed myself tighter against the bathroom door. He reached out toward me, and I said the only thing I could think of to stop him. Arent you trying to do the very thing that you keep accusing Jean-Claude of doing?
His hand hesitated so close to my face that I could feel the heat from his skin. It wasnt just the warmth of his body this time. His power was there like something alive and almost separate from him, pulsing above his skin. Playing along my cheek like something smooth and warm andI waited for it to raise my wolf, but it didnt. It was as if it wasnt that kind of power. It felt softer than his usual electric rush. It felt more likeJean-Claude.
I opened my eyes, looked up at him, and found what Id feared. His eyes were solid brown, glowing with the light of his own power. It was what his eyes would have looked like if hed been a vampire. The way my own eyes looked from time to time.
Your eyes, I whispered.
His hand touched my face, and the touch was too much. One breath, I was trying to fight; the next, I fell into the brown fire of his eyes. There was nothing but the need to touch him. Nothing but the feel of his mouth on mine, his hands on my body, my hands on his, and the absolute rightness of it all.
His hand went between my legs and grabbed me through my jeans. Normally, it would have been exciting, but tonight, it hurt. The pain was immediate. It helped me swim back up to the top of my mind. I could think again, rather than just feel.
Richard, stop, I said, and it was almost a yell.
He touched my face. You dont want me to stop.
I stared at the floor, as if the stained, clothes-strewn carpet were all-important. I do want you to stop.
Look at me, Anita.
I shook my head and started to move away from him, still on my knees. He grabbed my arm. The feel of his bare skin on mine almost undid me, but whatever was happening was a type of vampire power and Id spent years fighting that. I breathed through the almost crazed desire to have more of his skin touch mine. It was like a mixture of the ardeur and vampire gaze. Shit.
Let go, Richard, now. My voice was breathy, but clear. Point for me.
I can feel how much you want me to touch you, he said, and his own voice was tight with power, or desire, or both.
I felt his body, not just through his hand, but all of it. It was as if I could feel every inch of him, so warm, so alive, soyummy. I did want to touch him. I wanted to strip off and roll around on top of him. Again, it felt like the ardeur, but different. But this time I was on the wrong end of it. It was as if Richard were the one projecting the ardeur at me, not the other way around. Jean-Claude held the ardeur, but hed always behaved himself. In this moment with Richard, I knew just how much Jean-Claude had behaved himself.
I thought, Jean-Claude, help me.
The bathroom door opened behind us. Jason stood in the doorway with a towel wrapped around his waist.
Go away, Richard said.
Help me, I said.
I had a moment to feel sorry for Jason. He was so screwed. If he helped me, his Ulfric would be pissed. If he didnt help me, Id be pissed, and so would Jean-Claude. I had a moment to appreciate his dilemma, caught between the werewolf and the vampire. But even appreciating his problem, I couldnt care as much about his problem as my own. Richard had finally inherited the ardeur, and he was using it on me.