"Maybe if Marcus knows I can share blood, my power, he'll back down."
"You're still hoping not to kill him," I said.
"It's not only the killing, Anita. It's everything that goes with it. It's what I just did with Jason. A hundred things, none of them very human." He looked at me, and there was a sorrow in his brown eyes that I had never seen before.
I understood suddenly. "It isn't the killing exactly, is it? Once you take over the pack by blood and brute force, you have to keep the pack with blood and brute force."
"Exactly. If I could force Marcus out somehow, if I could make him back down, then I'd have room to do things differently." He came to stand in front of me, his face eager. "I've brought nearly half the pack either to my side or at least to be neutral. They aren't backing Marcus anymore. No one's ever divided a pack like this without deaths."
"Why can't you split into two packs?"
He shook his head. "Marcus would never allow it. The pack leader gets a tithe from every member. It would cut not just his power but his money."
"You getting money now?" I asked.
"Everyone's still tithing to Marcus. I don't want the money, and it's just one more fight. I think tithing should be abolished."
I watched the light in his face, the plans, the dreams. He was building a power base of fairness and boy scout virtues with creatures that could rip out your throat and eat you afterwards. He believed he could do it. Watching his handsome, eager face, I almost believed it, too.
"I thought you could kill Marcus and that would be it. But it won't be, will it?"
"Raina will see to it that I'm challenged. Unless I put the fear of me into them."
"As long as Raina is alive, she'll be trouble."
"I don't know what to do about Raina."
"I could kill her," I said.
The look on his face was enough.
"Just kidding," I said. Sort of. Richard wouldn't agree with the ultimate practicality, but if he was going to be safe, Raina had to die. Cold-blooded, but true.
"What are you thinking, Anita?"
"That maybe you're right and the rest of us are wrong."
"Maybe you shouldn't kill Marcus."
Richard's eyes widened. "I thought you were angry with me for not killing Marcus."
"It's not killing Marcus. It's endangering everybody by not killing Marcus."
He shook his head. "I don't see the difference."
"The difference is that killing is a means to an end, not an end in itself. I want you alive. Marcus gone. The pack members that follow you safe. I don't want you to have to torture the pack to keep your place. If we can accomplish all that without you having to kill anyone, I'm okay with that. I don't think there's an option that doesn't involve killing. But if you can come up with one, I'll support you."
He studied my face. "Are you telling me that you think I shouldn't kill now?"
He laughed, but it was with more irony than humor. "I don't know whether to yell at you or hug you."
"I affect a lot of people that way," I said. "Look, when we went to rescue Stephen, you should have called a few people. Gone into the situation from a position of strength, with three or four lieutenants at your back. There is a compromise between playing Sir Lancelot and being Vlad the Impaler."
He sat down on the edge of the bed. "Being able to feed power through my blood is a rare talent. It's impressive, but it won't be enough. I'd have to have some major scary stuff to get Marcus and Raina to back down. I'm powerful, Anita, really powerful." He said it like it was simply the truth, no ego, no pride. "But it's not that kind of powerful."
I sat down beside him. "I'll do anything I can, Richard. Just promise me you won't be careless."
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "I won't be careless if you'll kiss me."
We kissed. The taste of him was warm and sure, but underneath it was the sweet salt of blood, and Jason's aftershave. I drew away from him.
I shook my head. Telling him I could taste other people's blood in his mouth was not going to be helpful. We were going to work so he didn't have to do things like that. It wasn't his beast that would steal his humanity, it was a thousand smaller things.
"Change for me," I said.
"Change for me, here, now."
He stared at me, as if trying to read something in my face. "Why now?"
"Let me see all of you, Richard, the whole package."
"If you don't want Jean-Claude sharing the bed, you don't want a wolf in bed with you, either."
"You wouldn't you be trapped in wolf form until morning, you said so earlier."
"No, I wouldn't," he said softly.
"If you change tonight, and I can accept it, we can make love. We can start planning the wedding."
He laughed. "Can I kill Marcus before I have to kill Jean-Claude?"
"Jean-Claude promised not to hurt you," I said.
Richard went very still. "You've already talked to him about this?"
"Why wasn't he angry with me?"
"He said he'd step aside if he couldn't win me, so he's stepping aside." I didn't add the part about Jean-Claude loving me. Save it for later.
"Call your beast, Richard."
He shook his head. "It isn't just my beast, Anita. It's the lukoi, the pack. You have to see them, too."
"I've seen them."
He shook his head. "You haven't seen us at the lupanar. Our place of power. We're real there, no pretense, not even to ourselves."
"I've just told you that I want to marry you. Did you pick up on that?" I asked.
Richard stood. "I want to marry you, Anita, more than almost anything in the world. I want you so badly my body aches with it. I don't trust myself to be here tonight."
"We've managed to stay chaste so far," I said.
"By the skin of our teeth." He picked up his overnight case. "The lukoi call sex the killing dance."
"We use the same phrase for battles of succession."
"I still don't understand the problem."
He stared at me. "You will. God help us both. You will."
There was something so sad, so wistful about him suddenly, that I didn't want to let him go. Tomorrow he'd face Marcus, and just because he'd agreed to kill didn't mean he could. When the moment came, I didn't trust him not to flinch. I didn't want to lose him.
"Stay with me, Richard. Please."
"It wouldn't be fair to you."
"Don't be such a frigging boy scout."
He smiled and gave a very bad Popeye imitation, "I am what I am." He closed the door behind him. I didn't even get to kiss him good-bye.