He waved that away with his hand. "I know that you believe that, ma petite,I will not even disagree, but Musette will not be dissuaded by the argument. Asher likes both men and women, he has had sex with her and enjoyed it in the past. You have made sure she cannot physically harm him, so it would be merely sex, merely f**king. He would not be harmed by that."
I raised eyebrows at him. "You believe that, that there'd be no harm to it?"
"Non, nor does Musette in truth. Musette knows, Belle knows, that to have sex with Musette again after all these years will be painful for Asher. It will harm him, but not in a way that Belle will let us negotiate around. To Belle Morte, if a man has an orgasm, then he must have enjoyed himself. It is her reasoning."
"She really doesn't understand that there's a difference between lust and love, does she?"
"Non, ma petite, tres non."
"Why is it always Asher that we can't protect? Asher that we can't save?"
He shook his head. "I have asked that for a very, very long time, ma petite.I have yet to find an answer."
I laid my cheek against his knee. "This is the longest I've ever been able to go between feedings." I glanced a my watch. "It's almost two."
"Dawn will come in three, almost four hours. I must rescind the control I have lent you for the ardeurbefore then. You must feed it."
"It's not only your control is it?"
"No, it is fear and exhaustion, and thinking too hard, and your own growing abilities. In a few more months you will be down to one feeding a day, or a night. You will be able to store up the feedings and go longer."
"My head is practically in your lap, and I don't feel the least stirrings."
He stroked my hair, and it was a comforting touch. I wanted to be held more than I wanted sex. I wanted him to hold me while I drifted off to sleep. That sounded better than anything else I could think of right now.
"Once dawn comes my tie with you will weaken, and you will not be able to keep the ardeurat bay. I am sorry, ma petite,but we must feed it."
"You're as tired as I am," I said.
"I want nothing more than to climb between the silk sheets and wrap our nude bodies around one another. I want to hold and be held. Sex is a wondrous thing, but tonight I wish to be comforted more than pleasured. I feel like a child in the dark who knows the monsters are under the bed. I want to be told it will be alright, but I am far too old to believe such comforting lies."
Maybe it was because I was tired. Maybe it was because Jean-Claude had just said out loud almost exactly how I felt. I remembered other nights when we'd all been this tired, this frightened, this unsure of what the next nightfall would bring. I remembered Asher and Julianna, and I, we, Jean-Claude holding each other. Simply holding each other, the feel of bare skin and warmth, like a grown-up version of a teddy bear. Hold me tonight,Julianna used to say, and unspoken between the two men had been how often her fears allowed them to be as close and frightened as they truly were.
Julianna had been the bridge between the two men. They would never have been able to be so close for so long without her. I had the memories, I knew how many times her needs had brought them together, her love for each of them had bound them close. Jean-Claude had been the brains, Asher the charm, though both were charming and both intelligent, but Julianna had been their heart. One living, beating heart for all three of them.
I could never be Julianna. I didn't have her kindness, her gentleness, her patience. We were so unalike, but here I was centuries later with the same two men. I let out a long breath, took in another, let it out, listened to it shake.
"Is something wrong, ma petite,I mean more wrong than I know?"
I raised my face from his knee. "If Asher was truly a menage a trois with us, then Musette would have to leave him alone, wouldn't she?"
Some expression passed over his face, quickly swallowed away, hidden behind that beautiful, polite mask he wore when he was not sure what expression would help, and what would hurt. "If we had been able to answer truthfully tonight that Asher was in our bed, then Musette could not have asked for him. This is true."
"If he joined us tonight, then tomorrow he'd be safe." My voice sounded so matter of fact, as if I were proposing we go shopping, or get dinner.
His voice was even more careful than mine. "That would be true."
"If I had just let you and Asher be a couple when I wasn't around, then he would have been safe, but I can't." I shook my head. "In theory I don't have a problem with it. I like men. I see men as attractive, so I understand everyone seeing them as attractive. That men are attracted to men makes perfect sense to me. But in practice I can't bring myself to share my man with another man. I can't do it. If I found out you and Asher had been doing it behind my back, I'd dump your ass. I know it's amazingly unfair. I'm sleeping with Micah, and damn near sleeping with Nathaniel, and was ha**ng s*x with Richard until a few months ago. Yet you have to be with just me. It's monstrously unfair, I know that."
"I am not alienated from your bed when the others are with you, except for Richard, who would never share."
"I know, you get blood from the men because I still won't donate blood to you, but it's not the same."
"I want no one but you, ma petite.I have made that clear."
I looked up at him then. "You've made it clear, but I know that you do want someone else besides me. I've felt what you feel when you look at Asher. I see the way you two look at each other. It hurts sometimes just to watch you be in a room together."
"I am sorry, ma petite."
I tucked my knees to my chest and hugged them there. "Let me finish this thought, Jean-Claude, please."
He motioned for me to go ahead.
"I can't let you take Asher to your bed, and I can't take Asher to mine. But I remember what it was like for the three of you. I remember how safe it felt. There are moments when I forget that these aren't my memories and I long for what the three of you had. It seems a hell of a lot more peaceful than what we're doing."
I hugged my legs so tight, my arms trembled with the force of it. "I don't know if I can go through with it, but I'd like to try."
"Try what, ma petite?" His voice was very careful.
"I want Asher safe."
Jean-Claude had gone very still. "I do not understand, ma petite."
"Yes, you do."
He shook his head. "Non,I will have no misunderstandings here. You must be precise in your meaning."
I couldn't look at him while I said it. "Bring Asher in here for the night. I don't promise, but I want him warm and nude beside us. I want to chase that hurt from his eyes. I want to show him with my hands and my body that I find him lovely." I looked up at him, then, and found his face unreadable. "I don't know at what point I'm going to scream foul and bail on you both. I'm sure there's going to come a point, there usually is, but if we bring him into our bed tonight, in whatever way, then he's safe for tomorrow, right?"
"What will your Nimir-Raj say?"
"He assumed that you and I were intimate with Asher when he got to town. A lot of people assume it."
"You have told him the truth?"
"And won't he be angry about sharing you with yet another man?"
I shook my head. "Micah is more practical than I am, Jean-Claude. It's not just love, or lust, that brings me back to Asher. Tonight it's securing our power base. If Asher is safe, then we're all safer. His pain can't be used against us."
"How very practical of you, ma petite."
"I've learned from the best."
He gave me a look, one eyebrow raised. "If I were truly practical in matters of the heart, things would have gone more quickly between us."
"Maybe, or maybe not, you knew if you pushed too hard, I'd have either run, or tried to kill you."
He gave that graceful shrug. "Perhaps, but I should ask, so there are no misunderstandings, do you mean to bring Asher to our bed only for tonight?"
"Would it make a difference?" I asked.
"It may to him."
I tried to wrap my head around it all, and failed. "I don't know. I know that I don't want to give up alone time with you, just you. I know that I don't want to always have company."
"Julianna and Asher managed alone time even though we were a threesome."