My heart was hammering in my throat. I wanted to fling myself on him, to wrap myself around him like a blanket. I wanted all those black curls to sweep along my body like I was being caressed by living silk. I wanted him. I almost always wanted him, but tonight, I WANTED him. With everything that was happening and about to happen, all I could think of was sex, sex with Jean-Claude.
He glided towards me, and I held out a hand so he wouldn't touch me. If he laid so much as a finger on me, I wasn't sure what I'd do.
He looked puzzled, and I heard his voice in my head, "What is wrong, ma petite?"
I still didn't have the trick of talking mind-to-mind down pat, so I didn't try. I just held up my left hand and pointed at my watch. It was ten to midnight.
Like Cinderella, I needed to be home by midnight every night. I'd told my coworkers that it was a lunch break, and it was, sometimes I even got food. But what I had to feed every twelve hours didn't have much to do with my stomach. No, lower places, definitely lower places.
Jean-Claude's eyes went wide. In my head, he said, "Ma petite,please tell me you have fed the ardeuralready."
I shrugged. "Twelve hours ago." I didn't bother to whisper; the vampires behind the curtains would hear it, so I used a normal tone of voice. It wasn't like I was going to be able to hide the ardeurfrom them anyway. The ardeurwas one of the side effects of being Jean-Claude's human servant. In another age, Jean-Claude would have been considered an incubus, because he could feed on lust. Not just feed upon it, but cause others to lust after him. It was a way of making more of what you needed. In an emergency, he could feed off of lust and forgo blood for a few days. It was very rare for a vampire to have a secondary power like this. Damian's master had been able to feed off of fear. She'd been what they call a night hag, or mora.
Belle Morte, of course, held the ardeur.She had used it for centuries to manipulate kings and emperors. Jean-Claude was one of the few of her bloodline to inherit this particular power. And I was, to my knowledge, the only human servant to ever inherit it from anyone.
When the ardeurfirst awoke in a vamp, it controlled them just like the blood lust, then gradually they learned to control it. Or that was the plan. Since I'd had it, I'd fought like hell so that I only had to feed every twelve hours or so. The feeling didn't have to involve intercourse, but there did have to be sexual contact. All those old stories about succubi and incubi killing people by loving them to death were true. I could not feed off the same person every time. Micah let me feed off him. Jean-Claude had been waiting to share the ardeurwith me for years, though he'd thought it would be him doing the feeding, not me. I'd been forced to make Nathaniel, one of my wereleopards, into my own version of a pomme de sang.Embarrassing as hell, but it beat the heck out of molesting strangers, which was entirely possible if you fought the ardeur.It was a hard taskmistress just like Belle Morte.
The plan for tonight had been to go to my house and meet with Micah, but instead I was here at the Circus. That wasn't bad in itself, because Jean-Claude was always willing. Unfortunately, we had big bad vampires in the next room, and I didn't think they'd wait while we had hot monkey sex. Call it a hunch, but I suspected Musette would be sympathetic.
The trouble was, the ardeurwasn't sympathetic either.
The men were all standing around with that oh, my godsilence thick on the ground. We were all looking at Jean-Claude to solve this. "What do we do?" I asked.
He looked lost for a moment, then he laughed, that touchable, caressable laugh. It made me shudder, and only Damian grabbing me kept me from falling. I waited for the ardeurto spread to him like the contagious disease it could be, but it didn't. The moment he touched me, the ardeurreceded like the ocean pulling back from the shore. I felt light and clean, clearheaded. I could think again. I clutched Damian's arm like it was the last piece of wood in the ocean.
I turned wide eyes to Jean-Claude. He was looking very serious. "I feel it too, ma petite."
We knew through practice that if Jean-Claude concentrated on controlling the ardeur,he could help me control it as well. But when he wasn't concentrating, the fire burned through us both like some overwhelming force of nature.
I felt Damian's sorrow at my cool touch, felt it like a taste across my tongue, as if rain could have a flavor.
I knew that Damian wanted me, in that good ol'-fashioned way that had very little to do with hearts and flowers, and everything to do with lust. He craved me the way he did blood, because to be without me was to die. Damian was over six hundred years old, but he'd never be a master vampire. Which meant that literally his original mistress had made his heart beat, his body walk. Then Jean-Claude had been his animating force, and then, accidentally, I'd stolen him from Jean-Claude, and now it was my necromancy that made his blood flow, his heart beat.
I'd been horrified to find that I had, in effect, a pet vampire. I'd tried to ignore what I'd done, run from it. I'd been running from so many things. But I knew that Damian wasn't one of those things that I could ignore.
If I cut myself off from Damian, he would first go mad, then he would die in truth. Of course, long before he faded away, the other vampires would have had to execute him. You couldn't have a six-hundred-year-old vampire gone stark raving mad running around the city slaughtering people. It was bad for business. How did I know what would happen if I denied Damian? Because I hadn't known he was my vampire servant for the first six months after it had happened. He had gone mad, and he had slaughtered innocents. Jean-Claude had imprisoned him, waiting for me to come home, waiting for me to live up to my responsibilities instead of running from them. Damian had been one of my object lessons that you either embraced your power, or others paid the price.
I looked at Jean-Claude. He was still beautiful, but I could look at him without wanting to swarm all over him. "This is amazing," I said.
"If you would have let Damian touch you like this months ago, we would have discovered it sooner," Jean-Claude said.
There was a time, not that long ago, that I would have resented being reminded of my own shortcomings, but one of my new resolutions was not to argue about everything. Picking my battles, that was the goal.
Jean-Claude nodded, walked over to me, and held out his hand. "My apologies for the earlier indiscretion, ma petite,but I am master now, no longer pawn of the fire that burns us both."
I stared at the hand, so pale, long-fingered, graceful. Even without the ardeur'sinterference, he was always fascinating in ways that I had no words for. I took his hand, while still clutching Damian's arm. Jean-Claude's fingers closed around mine, and my heart stayed calm. The ardeurdid not raise its lascivious head.
He raised my hand to his mouth, slowly, touched his lips to my knuckles. Nothing happened. He risked a caress of his lips, sliding along my skin. It did make me catch my breath, but the ardeurdid not rise.
He stood upright, my hand still in his. He smiled, that brilliant smile that I valued, because it was real, or as close to real as he could come. He'd spent centuries schooling his face, his every motion to be courtly, graceful, and give nothing away. He found it hard to simply react. "Come, ma petite,come let us meet our guests."
I nodded. "Sure."
He wrapped my arm through his and looked at Damian. "Take her other arm, mon ami,let us escort her inside."
Damian settled my hand on the smooth, muscled skin of his forearm. "With pleasure, master."
Normally, Jean-Claude didn't like his vamps calling him master, but tonight we'd be formal. We were trying to impress people who hadn't been impressed by anything in centuries.
Asher stepped forward to get the drapes, Jason went to the other side, and they held the drapes aside for us so we could enter without having to bat at the drapes. There are reasons that wall-hangings over doorways fell out of favor.
The only downside to having an attractive vampire on each arm was that I couldn't go for my gun quickly. Of course, if I had to draw a gun as soon as we went through the door, then the night was going to be a bad one. Bad enough that we might survive this night, but not the next.
Musette stood by the white brick fireplace. It had to be her, because she was the only little blond Barbie doll in the room, and that's how Jason had described her. Jason had a lot of faults, but describing a woman inaccurately was not one of them.
She was indeed small, shorter than me by at least three inches. Which made her barely five feet tall, if she was wearing heels under the long white gown, then she was tinier still. Her hair fell around her shoulders in blond waves, but her eyebrows were black and perfectly arched. Either she dyed one thing or the other, or she was one of those rare blonds where body and head hair didn't match. Which did happen, but not often. The blond hair, pale skin, dark eyebrows and eyelashes framed blue eyes like spring skies. I realized that her eyes were only a few shades bluer than Jason's. Maybe it was the dark eyebrows and lashes that made them seem so much more vivid.