"I know that according to our own laws, the laws you helped enact, that no one is allowed to simply enter a territory without negotiating safe passage. Musette and her people are here three months before we gave them permission to enter, which means, in effect, they are outlaw, and have no rights, no safety. I could slaughter them all and council law would be on my side. You have too many people on the council that fear you, Belle, they would think it a good joke."
"You would not dare," she said.
"I will not allow you to harm Asher, not anymore."
"He is nothing to you, Jean-Claude."
"You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, magnificent in your lust; I am humbled by your power, awed by the political maneuvering that you do so effortlessly. But I have been long away from you, and I have learned that beauty is not always what it seems, that lust is not always better than love, that power alone is not enough to fill the bed or the heart, and that I don't have your patience for the politics."
She reached out a slender hand towards him. "I showed you love such as no mortal ever could."
"You showed me lust, mistress, sexual appetite."
"Oui, amour" she said, her voice sultry enough to cause goosebumps on my arms.
Jean-Claude shook his head. "Non,lust, not love, never love."
A look passed over her face, like a badly designed mask moving liquid under Musette's skin. It reminded me uncomfortably of watching the beast glide under the skin of a shape-shifter before it springs forth. If she changed into Belle completely, I was trying for her heart while I had the chance.
"You loved me once, Jean-Claude."
"Oui,with all my heart and all my soul."
"But you do not love me now," her voice was soft, there might even have been a trace of loss.
"I have learned that love can grow without the touch of sex, and that sex does not always lead to love."
"I would love you again," she whispered.
"Non,you would possess me again, and love is not about possession."
"You speak in riddles," she said.
"I speak truth as I have come to know it," he said.
Those pale honey brown eyes turned to me. "You have done this. Somehow, you have done this."
I was beginning to feel positively silly with the knife still in Musette, but I was afraid to take it out, because I was half expecting Belle to stand up and say, aha, that was what I was waiting for.So I kept the blade in and tried to think what to do. Staring into those pale brown eyes it was hard to think, hard not to either run away or try and kill her. If I can't run from my fears, I have a tendency to try and kill them. It's a strategy that's worked so far.
"What have I done?" I asked, and my voice showed the strain. Damian's hands kneaded gently at my shoulders, not so much a massage, as a reassurance that he was there, I think.
"You have turned him against me," she said.
"No," I said, "you did that all on your own, centuries before I was born."
That liquid mask moved under Musette's skin again. If I touched her face I thought I'd feel things underneath that should not have been there. "I took him to my bed, what more does anyone desire of Belle Morte?"
"You showed him what your love was worth when you cast Asher out of your bed."
"What does Asher's fate have to do with Jean-Claude's love?"
That anyone who knew the two of them could ask that was amazing. That the vampire that brought them together could ask that was both frightening and sad.
"You need to leave now, Belle," I said.
"Why, what have I said to upset you?"
I shook my head. "The list is too long, Belle, we don't have all night, let me hit the highlights. Go away, for now, please, just leave. I'm tired of trying to explain color to the blind."
"I do not understand what that means."
"No," I said, "you don't."
She stared up at me. Her hand came up as if to touch my face. "If you touch me," I said, "I'll see if Musette can survive without her heart."
"Why is the touch of my hand worse then the touch of our bodies one against the other?"
"Call it a hunch, but I don't want you touching me on purpose. Besides it's not your body, it's Musette's. Although I'm not sure about that, so call me cautious, and just don't touch me."
"I will see you again, Anita, I promise you that."
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
"You don't seem to believe me."
"Oh, I believe you, I just can't get too worked up over it."
"Worked up?" she made it a question.
"She means she cannot get too upset about your threat," Jean-Claude said.
Belle looked back at me. "Why can you not?"
"I've had a lot of vampires threaten me, I can't panic every time."
"I am Belle Morte, member of the council on high, do not underestimate me, Anita."
"Tell that to the Earthmover," I said. He'd been a council member that had come to town once upon a time. He'd died.
"I have not forgotten that Jean-Claude slew a council member."
Actually, I'd slain him, but why quibble? "Just go, Belle, please, just go."
"And if I choose to stay? What will you do? What can you do?"
I thought about several options, most of them fatal to one or both of us. Finally, I said, "If you want to keep this body, fine. It's not my body. It's not even my vampire. You want it, knock yourself out."
I leaned back from her and jerked the knife out. There was no way I was leaving a weapon on Musette. She was too likely to take the blade out and stick it in me. The blade pulling out brought a gasp from Belle that plunging it in hadn't.
She grabbed my wrist, as if to keep me from hurting her, but I should have known better. Some small, screaming part of me knew I was still kneeling on the carpet in Jean-Claude's living room, but the rest of me was in a dark, candlelit room. The bed was large and soft, mounded with pillows as if it would rise up in a soft cushioned wave and engulf me. The woman pressed into all that softness lay in a bed of her own dark hair, her eyes a solid golden brown fire, like staring at the sun through a piece of colored glass. Belle Morte stared up at me, her pale body naked. The glory of her spread before me, nothing hidden. I wanted her, wanted her as I'd never wanted anything else in my life.
I came back to myself, with a gasp. Jean-Claude held my other hand in a death grip. Damian was a weight against the back of my body. Jason stood over the rest of us as we knelt. His hands were on Jean-Claude's shoulder, and against the side of my neck, above Damian's hand. I could feel the pulse in my neck pounding against the pulse in the palm of Jason's hand.
I could smell the musty scent of fur, the rich, almost eatable smell of the forest. It was the smell of the pack. The werewolves that had come to guard our back had stepped up through the crowd. I could feel the wolves ranged behind me, feel them like there was an invisible thread between Jason, me, and them. Jean-Claude's ties to the wolves were direct, they were his animal to call. He didn't need Richard's beast to call the wolves. I needed a surrogate wolf to bind me to them. Richard should have been at our back, but he wasn't. If Jason had not been there to be our third, then Belle might have raised the ardeur,drowned us in memories of her sweet flesh. Flung us out into the room and turned my Mexican standoff into an orgy.
But Jean-Claude gave me his control through the press of his hand; Damian gave me his desperate reserve through his body molded against my back; Jason fed the pulse of the pack into the bend of my neck. We were not merely a triumvirate of power; through Damian's addition, we were more. And that more was stronger than Belle Morte trapped in Musette's body. If she'd been here in person, it might have been a different story, but she wasn't. She was way the hell in Europe somewhere.
A howl broke out behind me, and another, and another. Jason threw his head back, making a long clean line of his throat. A howl trembled from his mouth, to join with the chorus behind us. The sound rose and fell, one wolf's note dying off, another taking up the call, until the sound rose and fell like music--lonely, trembling, amazing music.
I met Belle's pale brown eyes and found them full of fire, like staring at flames through brown glass. It did remind me of her eyes in the memory she had chosen, but it was just a memory. There was no bite or pull to it now. The ardeurlay quiet, held behind the bars we had forged for it, from sheer force of will, and months of practice.