I looked past Jean-Claude to see Asher still standing, his hands to his stomach where blood blossomed across the skin of his hands. The brown of the shirt was dark enough to hide the first rush of blood. Musette put the knife to her delicate mouth and licked down the blade.
I knew through Jean-Claude's memories that vampire blood gives no sustenance. You cannot feed from the dead, not in that way.
Asher looked at us. "It is not silver, ma cherie,it will not kill me." His breath was cut off in his throat, as Musette plunged the knife in a second time.
The world swam in streamers of colors. I closed my eyes for a second and spoke in a low, careful voice. "Let go of me, Damian." The hands at my back dropped away instantly, because I'd given a direct order. I opened my eyes and met Jean-Claude's gaze. We stared at each other, until his hand dropped, slowly, away. His voice echoed like a whisper in my mind, "You cannot kill her for this."
I put my gun back in its holster. "Yeah, I know." I couldn't kill her, because she wasn't trying to kill Asher, but I would not stand here and watch him be tortured. I would not, could not, do it. I'd once thought that arm wrestling vampires was a bad idea. She was stronger than me, even with Jean-Claude's marks, but I was also betting she wasn't trained in hand-to-hand fighting. If I was wrong, I was about to get my ass kicked. If I was right, well, we'd see.
Musette made no move to protect herself. Angelito stayed with the other men across the room. It was as if neither of them saw me as a threat. You'd think with my reputation, vampires would stop underestimating me. But dead or alive, there are always fools.
I could feel myself smiling, and I didn't need a mirror to know that it wasn't a nice smile. It was the smile I got when I'd been pissed off too much and I'd finally decided to do something about it.
Musette made a big show of licking the knife clean, while Asher stood in front of her and bled. She licked it like a kid with a Popsicle on a hot day--got to lick carefully, but quickly, or it drips down your hand, and you lose some of it. Her eyes were all for me, the show was all for me. It was as if Asher didn't matter at all to her. Maybe he didn't.
She had actually turned back to plunge the blade home a third time, when I was within touching distance. I don't know what she thought I planned to do, because she seemed totally surprised when I grabbed her hand. Maybe she expected me to fight like a girl, whatever the hell that means.
I pushed my shoulder into her, and she tottered backwards on her high heels. I hooked my heel behind hers, and foot swept her leg out from under her. She fell backwards, because I helped. I rode her body down to the ground, turning the knife in her hand with mine, and when she hit the floor, I plunged the knife home. I leaned my knee into the back of our hands and felt the blade come out the back of her body.
I whispered to her, "It's not silver, you'll heal."
I didn't so much hear Angelito move as feel him. "If you come over here, Angelito, I will force this blade up into her heart, and it won't matter if it's silver, or if it's not. I'll shred her heart before you can cross the room."
The far drapes opened and vampires spilled into the room, some ours, some hers. I don't know what would have happened, but I heard the far door open, behind the drapes. I heard a lot of movement, and I almost tore the blade up through her, not at all sure the metal was strong enough to take the strain. With a better blade I could have dug for her heart, with this one I wasn't sure.
A split second before I tried it, I heard a sound that raised the hair on my arms. The sound of hyenas hunting. It's a hell of a lot creepier than the howl of a wolf, but that joined with it. I knew the moment I heard the noises that it was our calvary coming, not Musette's.
I didn't look behind, because I didn't dare take my eyes off the vampire I had pinned to the floor. But I felt the crowd surge behind me, felt the neck-ruffling power of shape-shifters filling the room like an electric cloud.
The touch of so many of them with such tension called my own beast like a snake in my gut to writhe and flow inside my body. I wasn't a shape-shifter, but through Richard and my tie to the wereleopards, I had the closest thing a human being could have to their very own private beast.
It was Bobby Lee, who was actually a wererat, that came forward enough for me to see him. His southern drawl always sounded so out of place in a fight. "You planning to kill her?"
"I'm thinking about it."
He knelt on one knee beside us. "You think that's the smart thing to do?" He glanced up at the vampires on the other side of the room.
"Then maybe you should oughta ease up there, before you gut her."
"Micah send you?" I asked, eyes still on Musette's pain-filled face. I was happy to see her hurting. I didn't usually enjoy causing pain to anyone, but I just didn't mind hurting Musette.
"He didn't send any of your leopards, cause you told him not to, but he contacted the other leaders, and here we are. If you're not going to kill her, girl, you should probably let her go."
"Not yet," I said.
He didn't ask again, but stood up near us, like the good bodyguard he was.
I spoke directly to Musette, but I made sure my voice carried. "No one comes into our territory and harms our people. No one, not the council, not even le sourdre de sangof our bloodline. Everyone tells me that when I speak to you I'm speaking to Belle herself, well, here's the message. The next one of her people to harm one of our people is dead. I will take their heads, their hearts, and I'll burn the rest."
Musette found her voice, at long last, though it was strained, and a little afraid. "You would not dare."
I leaned into the blade, a little bit more, made her grunt with the force of it. "Try me."
The pain in Musette's face faded, vanishing like someone wiped it away, and her blue eyes began to darken. I rode the knife into her while Belle's pale brown eyes swirled to the surface, the dark overwhelming all that blue, until Musette's eyes were the color of poisoned honey.
I'd seen Belle do this trick once before, but it had been in a mirror, and my own eyes. Fear drove through me like a blade, chilling my skin, bringing my heart into my neck like a trapped thing. Fear can either chase back the beast, or call it. This fear calmed it, dampened it, so that that rising power sank away, leaving me alone, and scared. It wasn't a vampire trick that made me want to let her go and run away. I'd felt Belle move through my own body, and I never wanted her to be able to do it again. If I took Musette's heart with Belle inside her, could I kill them both? Probably not, but God, it was tempting.
Belle's voice came without a trace of fear, or strain. If the knife hurt her too, it didn't show. "Jean-Claude, have you taught her nothing?" The voice was not Musette's, it was deeper, richer, a low contralto. The irreverent thought that she'd give really good phone sex crossed my mind.
Jean-Claude started gliding towards us. He motioned for Damian to follow, and the red-haired vampire fell into step behind him. Jean-Claude came to kneel beside us and motioned Damian to do the same. They both bowed their heads, carefully out of reach. "Musette overstepped the bounds for a visitor to my lands. You would not tolerate such treatment of one of your own people. I have learned well the lessons you taught me, Belle Morte."
"What lesson is this?" she asked.
"Tolerate nothing. No hint of disobedience. No breath of revolution. No insult is tolerated. I admit that I forgot this in the rush of fear that Musette brought with her. The thought of insulting you, even indirectly was unthinkable, but I am no longer your creature. I am a Master of the City now. I am my own creature, and Asher is mine now. I will be what you brought me up to be, Belle, I will truly be your child. I will let ma petitebe as ruthless as she likes, and Musette will either learn better manners, or she will not be coming home to you ever again."
She sat up. With the knife plunged through her body, she sat up, and I could not keep her pinned down. The movement pushed me backwards enough to brush against Damian. He touched my back, and when I didn't tell him not to, he touched my shoulder.
Belle even dropped Musette's hand away from the knife, so that my hand held it in place. But she showed no pain, in fact she ignored me to look at Jean-Claude. I began to feel silly with my bloody hands and the knife still stuck in Musette. No, not silly, superfluous.
"You know what I would do to you if you harmed her," Belle said.