"The last time you rolled the ardeurover us, it was new to me. It's not new anymore," I said.
Something flowed under Musette's skin. It was like watching a second face roll underneath her skin. Again, I half expected Belle to burst out through Musette's body like some kind of shape-shifter. But the rolling shape stopped, and those dark fire eyes stared into mine.
"There will be other nights, Anita," she said, in that low, almost purring voice of hers.
I nodded. "I know."
With that she vanished. Musette fell back onto the floor into a . . . dead faint. Her vampires rushed forward. The wolves stayed at my back, the werehyenas stepped up, the wererats drew guns, and Bobby Lee said, "Don't queer our shot, gentlemen."
The werehyenas hesitated, forming two groups one to either side of the vampires. Our vampires peeled off from Musette's and eased through the crowd of wereanimals. "Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt," Bobby Lee said.
"Let them fetch their mistress," Jean-Claude said.
Some of the shape-shifters looked his way, none of the wererats did. We had this much backup not because Jean-Claude had a tie to any other animal except the wolves, but because I'd made friends. The wererats and werehyenas were here for me, not him.
"Ease down, Bobby Lee, let them get Musette. I certainly don't want to have to take care of her."
The men and women, wererats all, with their guns nicely pointed, moved back in two lines so the vampires had to walk between them to reach Musette. Angelito had joined them, but Bobby Lee motioned him back with a wave of his gun barrel. Angelito was imposing, but he was also one of the few humans among them. I wasn't sure the big man was the most dangerous person on their side. A little girl of seven or eight with dark curls cut short around an angelic face flashed dainty fangs and hissed at me. An older boy who looked like a young twelve, or an old ten, picked Musette's shoulders up, raising her limp figure off the ground as if she weighed nothing. He didn't flash fangs, he just looked at me with dark, unfriendly eyes.
A male vamp in a dark conservative suit got Musette's feet, though he made no move to take the small woman from the boy. I knew the male vamp could have carried her easily, but he didn't argue with the boy. The boy didn't lack strength, just height, and leverage.
They carried her back to Angelito, who took her from the others. Musette looked tiny held in his long arms. There were people in the room who had thicker arms than Angelito. The werehyenas were bodybuilders, but there was no one on our side that had the length and size of Musette's little angel.
Jean-Claude stood, drawing me to my feet. Damian moved as I moved. Jason, too. "We have rooms prepared for all of you. You will be escorted to them, then we will leave guards outside your doors, for the protection of all concerned."
Bobby Lee was still holding his gun nice and steady on the vamps. "Anita?" he made my name a question.
"I don't want them wandering around without guards on them, so yeah, sounds like a good idea to me. You guys able to stick around that long?"
"Honey-child, I would follow you to the ends of the earth. 'Course we can." He laid the southern accent on thick enough to walk across.
"Meng Die, Faust, you know the way to the rooms, show our guards where to go." Meng Die was lovely, delicate, with perfectly straight black hair cut just above her shoulders; her skin was like pale porcelain. She would have looked like a perfect China doll if she hadn't liked wearing skintight black leather most of the time. The leather sort of ruined the image. She was a Master Vampire, and her animal to call, I'd been surprised to learn, was the wolf. Strangely, this didn't make her any more attractive to the wolves or me. She was just too damn unfriendly.
Faust was not much taller than Meng Die, but he didn't make you think delicate, just short. He was cheerfully attractive--like the boy next door if he happened to be a vampire--and had dyed his hair a dark wine-burgundy. His eyes were the color of new pennies as if the brown had a touch of fresh blood in it. He was a Master Vampire but not strong enough to ever be Master of the City, or at least not hold on to it. A weak Master of the City is usually a dead one.
Meng Die and Faust led the way through the drapes and the far corridor beyond. Musette's vamps went next. The wererats and the werehyenas brought up the rear. The drapes swished closed behind them. We were left alone with our thoughts. I hoped everyone else's thoughts were more useful than mine, because all I could think was that Belle wouldn't like being given her hat and shown the door. She'd find a way to make us eat the insult, if she could. Maybe she couldn't, but she was over two thousand years old, according to Jean-Claude. You didn't survive that long without knowing things, things that would make your enemies run screaming. The council member we'd killed had been able to cause earthquakes simply by thinking about it. I was pretty sure Belle had her own special tricks. I just hadn't seen them yet.
Less than an hour later Jean-Claude and I were in his room, alone. Damian was one of the guards outside our door. We'd split our vamps up among the wereanimals so that, hopefully, the bad vampires couldn't use mind tricks on the wereanimals without the vamps knowing it. We'd done the best we could do, which had actually been pretty damned good. The ardeurwas still in hiding. I wasn't questioning it, just grateful.
Jean-Claude's large four-poster bed was draped in blue silk, mounded with pillows in at least three vibrant shades of blue. He traded the drapes and pillows to match whatever color the sheets were, so I knew without looking that the sheets would be blue silk. Jean-Claude did not do white sheets, no matter what they were made out of.
He was sitting in the room's only chair, slumped down, hands crossed over his stomach. I was sitting on the rug that he'd put beside the bed. The rug was actually fur, thick and soft, and somehow just by touch you knew it had once been alive. We'd both been strangely reluctant to go to bed. I think we were both afraid the ardeurwould rise, and we weren't ready for it.
"Let me test my understanding," I said.
Jean-Claude looked at me, moving only his eyes.
"Tomorrow night, if Asher is still nobody's, will they be within their rights to ask for him?"
"Not as they did tonight, no, you have made that impossible now, unless they can take him by force."
I shook my head. "I've been around enough vamp politics to know that if you stop them from doing one thing, they'll do something else, not because they want to, but because it will cause you pain."
He frowned at me.
I sighed. "Let me try that again. Here's the deal, what are they within their rights to ask from us, while they're here?"
"Hunting rights, or willing donors, lovers--the basic needs to be met."
"Sex is a basic need?"
He just looked at me.
"Sorry, sorry. So I understand the willing donor part, they've got to eat. But the lovers, what does that mean, exactly?"
"It would be declasse to demand lovers for the servants, so Musette's lady's maid and butler are not to be worried over. The two children are special cases. The girl is physically too young, she does not think of such things. The boy is a problem. Bartolome was precocious, which is why Belle sent Musette to take him."
I stared at him. "Please, tell me that Musette never had sex with the kid?"
He seemed suddenly tired, rubbing his eyes with his fingertips. "Do you wish the truth, or a more pleasant lie?"
"The truth, I guess."
"Belle Morte can smell sexual appetite, it is one of her gifts. Bartolome may look like a child, but he does not think like one, nor did he when he was human and a true boy of eleven going on twelve. He was the heir to a great fortune. Belle wanted to control that fortune. He was also notorious in an age when noble sons were allowed almost any indiscretion with women who were not of noble blood."
"Explain that," I said.
"He looked like a child, Anita, and he would use that innocent face to maneuver women into compromising situations. By the time they realized that they were in danger of abuse, it was often too late. More than that, he threatened to accuse them of being the aggressor. There was no such phrase as child molestation in that century, but everyone knew it happened. Children were often married as young as ten or eleven, so the people who had such tastes could satisfy their needs within the marriage bed, until their spouses became too old for their tastes, then they would look outside their marriage, or by that time their own children might be old enough."