"You didn't push the topic until he understood what you were worried about, did you?" Nathaniel asked.
"I talked to him," she said, scowling at him.
Nathaniel faced her angry face and smiled. "But you didn't push."
She glowered at him. He just looked at her and smiled, and gradually the anger left her, so that she looked chagrined, a look that I'd never seen on her face before. "Maybe not as hard as I should have."
"Why not?" I asked.
Her eyes flicked to me and then to Nathaniel, who seemed to already know the answer. Pride touched her arm, lightly, and said, "You need to tell Micah and Anita."
"Tell us what?" I asked.
"I assume you're headed back downstairs to sleep," she said.
"Yeah, trying to get there."
"Let's talk on the stairs, then," she said.
We didn't argue, just moved for the door that she and Pride had just come through. If they didn't like the idea of going back down the stairs after just getting to the top of them, neither of them showed it. The rest of us just followed them back down the steps until Claudia thought we were far enough down to not be overheard from above.
She turned, leaning against the wall while the rest of us fanned out along the steps. "I didn't push the topic because Jean-Claude makes me nervous," she said, looking at the floor and then up at me as if daring me to make more of it than there was to make.
I met her angry, defiant look and didn't know what to say. I finally looked at Nathaniel. "And you knew this how?"
"I've been in the room for a lot of her reports to Jean-Claude," he said.
"God, I hate that it was that obvious," she said.
"It wasn't that obvious--I swear."
She looked at him as if she didn't believe him, but then some tension left her. She was like most powerful shapeshifters and could smell when someone was lying. Apparently, Nathaniel was telling the truth.
I started to ask, Why does Jean-Claude make you nervous? but Nicky touched one arm and Nathaniel touched the other. I looked from one to the other of them. What was I missing?
Micah asked, "Has Jean-Claude done anything to make you nervous around him?"
I frowned at the two men touching me, as if to say, See, it wasn't just me.
"No, he's always the perfect gentleman."
"It's not just you that's nervous around him," Pride said.
I looked at him. "What am I missing here?"
"It's not just Anita who has gained power as our evil queen," Rodina said.
"Will you please stop calling me that?" I said.
"As you wish, but you are heir to our dead queen's power, and through you it flows to all of those metaphysically tied to you."
"We all share power, so what?"
She looked at me as if I were being silly, or deliberately stupid.
Nathaniel answered, "Jean-Claude's sexual attractiveness has gone up."
I frowned at him. "That's not possible."
"It's possible," Pride said. "I'm completely heterosexual, but I'm noticing Jean-Claude in a way that I didn't before Ireland."
"Pride is right. It all started after Ireland," Claudia said.
"Are you saying that Jean-Claude's natural charisma has gotten that much better?" I asked.
They both nodded.
"And when was someone going to tell us that?" I said.
"They just told you," Nicky said.
"Are you both having trouble being alone with Jean-Claude?" Micah asked.
They exchanged looks with each other. Claudia shook her head and said, "I make sure I'm never alone with him."
"Are you saying you don't trust him alone with you?"
"Anita, don't make me say it."
"I'll say it for both of us," Pride said.
"One of you say it," I said.
"It's not Jean-Claude that we don't trust; it's us," Pride said.
"Are you saying that you're afraid that you'll . . . what? Throw yourself at him?" I asked.
"Not exactly," he said.
"Then what?" I asked.
"If he asked us to donate blood to him, I don't think we'd refuse," Claudia said.
"You don't donate blood to anyone," I said.
"We're saying that if Jean-Claude wanted to take advantage of the leveling up that you've all done, he could," Pride said.
"Are you having issues around any of the rest of us?" I asked.
"Not like we are with Jean-Claude," she said.
"I like women and I'm still not having as much trouble with you as I am with him," Pride said.
"Good to know," I said.
"Are you truly happy knowing that they are more attracted to Jean-Claude than to you?" Rodina asked.
"What?" I asked.
"Most women would be bothered by that," she said.
"I'm relieved," I said.
"Why?" This was from Ru.
"I don't want people attracted to me by magic; that's just creepy."
"There are men and women through the ages that have paid fortunes to seek out the very spells that you do not want," Ru said.
"Love potions and charms and all that kind of stuff are illegal for a reason," I said.
"It's illegal because people will use love spells, if they can find ones that work," Rodina said.
"I didn't think there was such a thing as a real love spell," Micah said.
"Not true love," Rodina said, "but lust; there's plenty of those."
"Lust is easier than love, always has been," Ru said.
Rodina nodded, face solemn.
I looked at the siblings and felt like there was a story there. I debated on whether it was any of my business. Ru looked at me. "I feel your curiosity. I would ask what I have no right to: Please do not ask this story of us."
I looked into his black eyes with the guy-liner done heavy around them and thought that if he was going to do the eyeliner, he needed to do something less conservative with his hair. Out loud I said, "You can keep your story, Ru."
"Thank you, my queen." He did a bow that went with the title.
"No need to bow," I said.
"You are being generous in your treatment of us. I wish you to know that I appreciate it."
"Okay, and you're welcome," I said.
"Do you want us to talk to Jean-Claude about this?" Micah asked Claudia.
She looked shocked. "About the payroll and the guards, yes, but about the other, absolutely not."
"Pride?" he asked the man.
"No, not unless it gets worse."
"Promise to tell one of us if it does grow worse," Micah said.
They both promised and went back up the stairs. We continued down them toward our bed. I was suddenly tired.
"I'm sorry that seeing Melanie bothered you," Nathaniel said as we walked down the endless steps.
"I'm sorry that seeing her interact with you made me feel sort of jealous."
"I was never with her while we were dating."
"I believe you," I said.
"It bothered me, too," Micah said.
"Why? You've seen me with ex-lovers before."
"I'm not sure I have," Micah said.
"He didn't come to town until after you were with me," I said.
He hugged Micah. "I'm sorry, I forgot."
Micah hugged him back, smiling. "It's okay. I didn't think it would bother me this much."
"I think what bothered me was that you called Melanie a fuck buddy, but she seemed to be a lot more serious toward you than that," I said.
"I noticed that, too," Micah said.
"I can't help what she thought or even felt. I can only tell you that I was sleeping with a lot of people at the same time."
"Did she know that?" Micah asked.
"Yes," he said. "I was still working as a paid escort, for one thing."
"Were you sleeping with other people off the clock?" I asked.
r /> "Yes, and I made no secret of it. I was slutty, but I made sure everyone that was interested knew it before I slept with them. I'd stopped taking drugs and was in a program to stay off of them, but I was using sex as my drug; I just didn't realize it."
I wasn't sure what to say to that and finally settled for, "Yay, therapy."
He nodded. "I was afraid to sleep alone, and the only reason that people sleep with someone is sex, so I made sure I was having enough of it that I was never alone. It was all pretty desperate."
"I'm glad you don't have to be desperate anymore," I said.
"Me, too," he said, smiling.
"Me, three," Micah said, and came in to take us both into a hug. We held on to one another on the stairs. It felt so good, I just wanted to go back to the bedroom and curl up between them and sleep.
"Would it be really weird to say I'm tired and I just want to curl up between the two of you and sleep?"
"That would work for me," Micah said.
"I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't disappointed," Nathaniel said, "but we did have great sex earlier, so you might persuade me to just sleep if you promise to wake me up with great sex."