JASON HAD SAID he lived in a small city. I hadnt understood what that might mean for the flight. What it meant was that we would have been on a freaking prop plane. The only thing that will get me on shit like that is life or death, as in a police investigation, where if I dont go more people will die.

Maybe the panic showed on my face, because Jason made a second call to Jean-Claude. I keep forgetting thaTHE owns a private jet. I dont know why I keep forgetting, but I do. I think Im just a little uncomfortable that Im dating someone who owns one. It just seems a little too idle rich for me. Of course, Jean-Claude is about as idle as I am, which means hes always working. He manages his little growing empire of preternatural businesses, and is good at it. I raise the dead and slay bad vampires. Busy, busy, busy.

But it meant that I didnt have to brave a puddle jumper to do the favor for Jason. If Id had to get on a tiny prop plane, well, I couldnt think of a sexual act deviant enough to make up for the phobia abuse. Luckily for both of us, the private jet, though small by commercial standards, wasnt horrible. If I hadnt been both claustrophobic and afraid to fly, it might even have been comfortable.

The last time wed been on the plane Jason had been jumping all over the place, teasing me about my phobia. This time he stayed in the swivel seat beside me, staring out the window. Of course, last time hed been wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Now he was wearing one of the Italian-cut designer suits that Jean-Claude had had made for him. The suit showed the broadness of his shoulders, the narrowness of waist, the sheer athleticism of him.

He was wearing the navy blue pinstripe. Other than the cut it was a conservative suit. A blue shirt made his eyes even bluer than they actually were, with a darker blue tie, complete with gold tie bar. I knew the tie was silk. I knew that the shoes that gleamed on his feet cost a hell of a lot more than my high heels. I refused to pay hundreds of dollars for yet another pair of uncomfortable high heels. They were good shoes, but not as good as what Jason was wearing.

Hed dressed carefully. He might hate coming home, buTHE wanted to impress them. He and Nathaniel had chosen my clothes, too. I didnt care. If it was in my closet I was usually okay with it, or it wouldnt be there. There was a section of stuff that Jean-Claude had bought me that was more club or fetish wear, but other than that my closet was fine.

I was wearing a royal blue skirt suit, with a silk shell that actually matched. The only thing Id added to the skirt to sort of ruin the feminine look was a wide black belt. It matched my shoes. The belt also held a Browning BDM at the small of my back at an angle, not up and down. I didnt often carry guns at the small of my back. I usually favored a shoulder holster, but I didnt go anywhere unarmed, and Id worn the gun this way before when my boss thought being armed was a little too scary for clients. If they had a metal detector at the hospital Id flash my federal marshal badge.

I had more guns and holsters in the luggage, but I figured for the hospital visit Id try to be low-key about my job and the whole violence thing.

Frankly, I never thought about going home to meet anyones folks, let alone Jasons. But Id play by the rules. Rule one had to be not to scare the prospective in-laws. Yeah, Jason and I both knew that we had no plans for marriage, but I was the first girl hed brought home, to my knowledge. People would assume a lot, and I wasnt sure how much Jason wanted them to assume. My only goal was not to lie outright to anyone; beyond that it was all game.

Jason let me keep a death grip on his hand, and complained only once thaTHE was losing feeling in his fingers. He was too worried to tease, which made me worry about him. Jason teased the way he breathed. Solemn wasnt his thing.

I tried to comfort him. He finally turned to me with a smile so sad it made my throat tight. Its okay, Anita. I appreciate the effort, but I cant think of anything you can say that will make me feel better.

He raised my tense hand to his face and rubbed his cheek against my knuckles. The horrible tightness inside me eased just a touch.

He smiled, and it was almost his old smile. His eyes sparkled with it. I knew that look. He was about to say something I wouldnt like.

A little more touch made you feel better, too.

I nodded.

The smile was pure Jason when he said, We could do the whole mile-high club; that might make me feel better.

Mile-high club? I made it a question.

He kissed my knuckles, soft, a little more open mouth than would be polite in public. Sex on a plane.

I shook my head and laughed. It was almost a normal laugh. Points for me. Now Im not so worried, I said.

Worried about what?

You, if you can flirt and tease, youll be all right.

He pressed my hand to his face, and his eyes went from teasing to too serious. Who says Im teasing?

I gave him the look the suggestion deserved. I could not possibly have sex on a plane. I can barely keep myself from running up and down the plane screaming.

The lascivious look changed instantly to that sparkling, teasing look. Might take both our minds off our problems.

I tugged at my hand.

He smiled, and kissed my hand, the way it was supposed to be done. A bare touch of lips, not open mouth, no tongue, chaste. Ill behave if you insist.

I insist.

The extra touching made you feel better, too, Anita. I could sense it in the way your hand felt, the way your body smelled less like prey. Seriously, why not have sex? Why not feel better?

I frowned at him, because I realized he really was serious. One, the pilot might walk in on us. Two, were on a plane, Jason, I couldnt possibly. Im too freaked.

Can we have sex when we land?

I frowned harder. You mean when we touch down?

No, hotel, I guess.

I wasnt offended anymore, I was too puzzled. He wasnt teasing. He was dead serious. It wasnt like him. Wont you want to go to the hospital or your old house before we get all messy?

He smiled, but it left his eyes worried. I dont want to go to the hospital. I dont want to go to the house. I dont want to do any of it.

I held his hand tight, not because of my fear, but because of the pain in his voice. Strangely, worrying about him helped me be less afraid about where we were. Who knew therapy for someone else was the answer all along to my own fears?

I dont think having sex is going to make this visit easier.

He smiled then, and a look ran through his eyes so quick I almost didnt catch it. But it was similar to a look that Nathaniel had, so I knew it, all too well. It was a look that said I was nave. Jason was years younger than me, and he hadnt had all the bad experiences that Nathaniel had had, but hed had his share.

I am not being nave, I said.

You read me that fast?

Nathaniel has a look pretty close to it, I said.

Of course, it couldnt just be me you knew that well. He sounded bitter.

I began to worry that I was in a much different problem than I thought with this favor. Whats that supposed to mean? I asked.

I want someone to want me the way you want Nathaniel. I want someone to love me the way you love the men in your life.

Perdy loved you that way, I said. Was it mean to say that, or just true?

He gave me an unfriendly look. Are you trying to be mean?

I took a deep breath, let it out slow, and tried to be honest, but not mean. I am on a plane, which means I am not at my best. Let me try this: youve told me before that you want to be consumed by romance, by love. You want to burn with it. Since I spent years fighting against anyone who wanted to love me like that, I dont quite get why that is your goal, but you say it is, so it is.

What am I supposed to say now, Anita? That I threw away someone who wanted to consume me with her love? I guess I did.

I shook my head and tried one more time. No, I dont mean that. I mean Perdys idea of love and your idea of love arent the same. You want to be consumed, not smothered. A fire needs air to burn bright. She took your air away, and the fire died.

He studied my face. That was actually smart.

Gee, Jason, thanks, you sound surprised.

He smiled. I dont mean that. I mean, that makes sense, that makes me feel less stupid about not wanting Perdy to love me. I do this big thing about wanting someone to be obsessed with me. I get it and I dont want it. I thought I was being fickle.

Obsession isnt love, Jason. Its possession.

I want to belong to someone, Anita.

But you want closer to what Nathaniel has, than a traditional marriage.

You mean I want to belong but not be monogamous.

I shrugged. Technically, Nathaniel is monogamous. He doesnt have sex with anyone but me.

Jason grinned, blue eyes shining. He so has sexual contact with other people.

Hes a stripper. Sexualized contact with other people is part of the job description.

I didnt say sexualized. I said sexual. At our jobs we cut it pretty fine, but actual sex is illegal.

I closed my eyes, but that made the purr of the engines seem louder. I opened my eyes wide and tried to think of what Id been saying. What do you mean then?

He gave me another of those looks that said I was being either nave or obtuse. Since I wasnt being either on purpose, I didnt know whaTHE meant.

Dont give me that look, Jason. I honestly dont know what you mean.

It was his turn to frown. You dont, do you?

No, I dont. I couldnt help but sound grumpy.

What do you consider sexual contact, Anita?

I dont know, sex.

Anita, Ive seen Asher feed on Nathaniel. Hell, Ive had him feed on me. Youd have to be a hell of a lot more homophobic than either Nathaniel or me not to understand that when Asher feeds, its sexual.

One of Ashers abilities was to make his bite orgasmic. It wasnt just mind tricks either. It was like a special ability. When hed been a bad little vampire hed used that ability to get money, land, protection from his victims. People had begged him for one more night, even when they knew it would kill them.

I know what Asher can do, better than you do, Jason.

Oh, geez, Im an idiot. How could I forget that? He hugged me. Im sorry, Anita, Im so sorry.

Asher and I had had sex and blood alone for the first and only time. Hed nearly killed me with pleasure, because I asked him to. Begged him to. We werent allowed to be alone anymore, because Id admitted to Jean-Claude that I still craved what wed done. Of all of Jean-Claudes vampires, Asher was the one I feared the most. Because he was the one who made me want him to do deadly things to me.

Jason hugged me and said, Im scared and thats making me stupid. Im sorry.

The pilots voice came over the speakers. It made me jump and make that girl eep. Jason kissed my forehead.

Were about to land, Ms. Blake, Mr. Schuyler. If you could take your seats, thatd be good.

Im okay, Jason, neither of us is at our best.

Forgive me.

Nothing to forgive, I said.

Jason nodded, but not like he believed it. I wasnt used to him being like this, emotional, forgetful. His father was dying. His mother was blackmailing him, emotionally. I guess he was entitled to be a little off his game.

I tightened my grip on the seat and his hand. Id be better when we landed. It would all be better when we landed. I tried to believe that, but part of me knew if Jason was already having problems, it was only going to get worse.

How did I end up holding his hand for this? Oh, right, Nathaniel volunteered me. I was so going to make him pay for this. The plane bounced a little on the runway, and I gasped a little. But we were on the ground. Things were looking up, at least for me.