"So Musette and company will be testing not just me, or Richard, but the rest of our people." I made it a statement.
"It is logical to assume so," he said.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. "I hate vampire politics."
"She's not yelling yet," Jason said, "I've never seen her this calm after this much bad news."
I opened my eyes and frowned at him.
"I believe it is Damian's influence," Asher said.
Jason's eyes flicked down to where Damian was playing gently with my hand. "You mean just touching her like that is helping her hold her temper?"
I had an urge to make Damian stop touching me, but I didn't, because I was furious. How dare anyone come into our territory and test us? How arrogant! How typically vampire. And I was tired already, tired of the games to come. If Jean-Claude would just let me shoot everyone in Musette's party tonight, it would save a lot of trouble. I just knew it would.
I did make Damian stop playing with my hand by taking his hand in mine and holding it firmly. The edge of my anger softened. I was still angry, but it was distant, manageable. Damn, Asher was right. I hated that. Hated that some new metaphysical bullshit had reached up to force me into closer personal contact with yet another vampire. Why couldn't metaphysics work just once without all the touchie-feelie crap?
Jason was looking at us, an odd expression on his face. "I think we should attach Damian to Anita for the night."
"You think Musette is going to piss me off that badly?" I asked.
"She's not hurt anyone, yet, Anita, not raised a finger to anyone, yet everyone's terrified. I'm f**king terrified, and I can't figure out why. She's this cute little blond thing, and she's gorgeous like a life size Barbie doll, with smaller br**sts, but hey a man doesn't need more than a mouthful, right?"
"You're over-sharing," I said.
He didn't smile at me. His face was way too serious. "Normally, I wouldn't mind a gorgeous vampire sinking fang into me, but Anita, I do not want this chick to touch me." He looked scared all of a sudden, scared and younger even than his twenty-two years. "I do not want her touching me." He stared up at me with haunted eyes. "Jean-Claude's promised me that Musette isn't one of those vampires who rots all over you. But it doesn't matter, I'm still so scared of her that it makes my stomach hurt."
I reached out my free hand, and Jason came to me. I hugged him and could feel a fine tremble running through him. He was cold, but not the kind of cold that extra clothes would fix. "We'll keep her off of you, Jason."
He hugged me so tight it was hard to breath, and he spoke with his face against my neck. "Don't promise things you can't deliver, Anita."
I opened my mouth to promise just that, when Asher interrupted. "No, Anita, do not promise safe passage to any of us, not yet, not until you have met Musette."
I drew back from Jason and looked up at Asher. "If I just shoot her dead when I walk in the room what would Belle do?"
He paled, and that's a neat trick for a vampire, even one that's fed. "You cannot, you must not, Anita . . . I beg of you."
"You know that if I killed her tonight we'd all be safer."
He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it. "Anita, ma cherie,please . . ."
Jason stepped back from me and made a motion with his hands. Damian was at my back, hands on my shoulders. The moment he touched me, I felt better, not exactly calmer, not even clearer-headed. Because I was right, we should kill Musette tonight. In the short run it would save so much trouble. But in the long run Belle Morte, maybe even the whole council, would come in force and kill us. I knew that. With Damian's hands kneading gently on the tight muscles of my shoulders I could even agree with it.
"Why does Damian's touch make me feel less like killing things?" I asked.
"I have noticed that you seem to gain a measure of calm, an extra layer of thoughtfulness before you pull the trigger when he is touching you."
"Jean-Claude isn't one bit less ruthless when I'm around him."
"You can only gain from your servant what your servant has to offer," Asher said. "I would say that you have helped make Jean-Claude more ruthless, not less, because that is your nature." He looked at the vampire standing behind me. "Damian survived for centuries with a mistress that tolerated no anger, no pride. Her will and her will alone was allowed. Damian learned to be less angry, less ruthless, or she-who-made-him would have destroyed him long ago."
Damian's hands had gone very still against my shoulders. I patted one of his hands the way you'd pat a friend that was hearing bad news. "It's alright, Damian, she can't touch you now."
"No, Jean-Claude bargained for my freedom from her, and I will always owe him a great debt for that. But that has nothing to do with blood oaths or vampiric bonds. I owe him for bringing me out of a terrible bondage."
"If you can keep Anita from doing anything unfortunate tonight, then you will have paid part of that debt," Asher said.
I felt Damian nod. "Then let us go down to the underground, for I know Musette of old and I do not fear her, as much as I fear she-who-made-me."
I turned so I could see Damian's face. "Are you implying that you fear Musette only a little less than she-who-made-you?"
He seemed to think about that for a second, or two, then slowly nodded. "I fear my old master more, but yes, I fear Musette."
"All fear her," Asher said.
Damian nodded. "All fear her."
I laid the top of my head against Damian's chest, shaking my head back and forth, messing up my hair, but I didn't care. "Damn it, if you'd just let me kill her tonight, now, it would save so much trouble. I'm right, you know I'm right."
Damian raised my face so I had to meet his eyes. "If you slay Musette, then Belle Morte will destroy Jean-Claude."
"What if Musette does something really terrible?"
Damian looked behind me at Asher. I turned so I could watch the vampires exchanging glances. Asher finally spoke, "I would never want to tell you that under no circumstances are we to slay Musette, because there may come a time when she gives you no choice. I would not have you endanger yourself by hesitating, if that time comes. But I think that Musette will play the political game very well and will give you no excuse so awful as that."
"If you don't handcuff Damian to Anita tonight, she's never going to make it through Musette's little show," Jason said.
"I do not believe that will be necessary," Asher said, "will it, Anita?"
I frowned. "How the hell should I know? Besides, I'm fresh out of handcuffs."
Jason drew a pair out of his jacket pocket. "You can borrow mine."
I frowned harder. "What are you doing carrying around a pair of handcuffs?" I held up my hand. "Wait, I don't want to know."
He grinned at me. "I'm a stripper, Anita, I use all sorts of props."
On one hand it was good to know that Jason didn't carry the handcuffs around for his own love life. On the other hand, I wasn't sure I wanted to know that handcuffs were part of his props as a stripper. What kind of shows were they doing down at Guilty Pleasures these days? Wait, I didn't really want an answer to that question either.
We all trooped to the back door of Circus of the Damned. We didn't use Jason's handcuffs, but I did end up walking down all those stairs holding Damian's hand. There was a growing list of people that walking hand in hand with I would have found romantic or titillating. Damian wasn't on the list, more's the pity.
Deep under the Circus of the Damned were what seemed like miles of underground rooms. They had been the home of St. Louis's Master of the City, whoever that happened to be, for as long as anyone could remember. Only the huge warehouse above ground had changed. Jean-Claude had modernized the underground, redecorated some of it, but that was all. It was still room after room of stone and torches.
To soften the stone look, Jean-Claude had used huge gauzy drapes to make a sort of tent for his living room walls. The outside was white, but once you parted the first set of hangings the "walls" were silver, gold, and white. Jason had reached out to part the drapes, when Jean-Claude pushed through. He motioned us all back, a finger to his lips.
I swallowed my greeting. He was wearing skin-tight leather pants tucked into thigh-high boots, so it was hard to tell where the pants left off and the boots began. The shirt was one of his typical shirts, something sort of 1700s, with mounds of ruffles at sleeves, and neck. But the color of all that silk was something I'd never seen him in. A vibrant blue somewhere between royal and navy. The color made his midnight eyes bluer than ever. His face was as always flawless, breathtaking. It was, as always, like some wet dream come to life, too beautiful to be real, too sensuous to be safe.