I don't know if it was the pain, the pleasure, the beasts, or all of it together, but suddenly I could think again. Suddenly, I knew why I'd been sick all day.
I felt that long metaphysical cord that bound me to Jean-Claude, saw him in his bed at the Circus of the Damned with Asher still beside him. There was a shadow sitting on Jean-Claude's bare chest, a dark shape. The longer I looked at it, the more solid it became, until it turned a misshapen face to me, snarling, and showed me eyes burning with dark honey flame.
I looked at the hungry shadow of Belle Morte's power that had been trying to leech "life" from Jean-Claude all day. But the Master Vampire's fail-safe systems had kicked in--his human servant, and probably his animal to call. Richard had refused to help us directly, but he was probably paying the price for it today.
The thing hissed at me again, like some great demonic cat, and I decided to treat it like one. I threw my beast down the long line of metaphysical cord. What I hadn't planned for was that Micah's beast would follow mine, that when we attacked it would be together, ripping the thing to smoky tatters. It fled through the wall.
I wondered where it had gotten to, and the thought was enough. I saw it in the guest room we'd prepared for Musette. The shadow sat on her chest for a second, then seemed to melt into her body. There was a moment when that swimming thing moved underneath the vampire's dead skin, then all was quiet.
Angelito's voice, "Mistress are you there?"
Then I was back in the warm water, and Micah's arms. "What was that?" he asked, voice soft, strangled.
"The shadowy thing was a piece of Belle Morte's power that she gave to Musette."
"It was like it was trying to feed on Jean-Claude, but it couldn't."
"I'm his human servant, Micah. I think when Musette tried to steal Jean-Claude's strength, the attack deflected to me. She's been sucking on me all day."
"Did Jean-Claude do that on purpose?" he asked.
"No, he's truly dead to the world. It's just the way the system is set up. If she could have sucked Jean-Claude dry, then she could have taken the energy of all of his vamps, everyone that had a blood tie to him."
"Instead she's been feeding off of you."
"Yeah, and probably Richard. I bet he called in sick to school today."
Micah held me tight against him. "How do we keep it from happening again?"
I patted his arm. "You know that's one of the things I like most about you. Most people would spend time worrying about what could have happened, how bad it could have been, you go straight to the practical."
"We need to do something before it hops back through the wall."
"Is my cell phone in here anywhere?"
"In the pile with your clothes," he said.
"Can you reach it?"
He stretched out one long arm. His arms were longer than they looked. He used fingertips to move the phone close enough to pick up. He handed it to me without a single question. Micah didn't make me waste time explaining myself.
I called the Circus of the Damned, the special number that wasn't in the phone book. Ernie, who was Jean-Claude's human errand boy and sometimes appetizer, answered. I asked if Bobby Lee was still there. When I described him, Ernie said, "Yeah, can't get rid of him. Seems to think he's in charge."
Since I sort of thought he was in charge, too, that worked for me. Bobby Lee came on the line. "Anita, what's happening?"
"Ask Ernie to find you some crosses, and put them on the doors to the guest rooms."
"Can I ask why?"
"To keep the bad vampires from doing any more metaphysical tricks today."
"That explains absolutely nothing to me."
"Just do it."
"Don't you need to put crosses on the coffins to keep vampires from using their powers?"
"There's only one exit from each room, it's like a bigger coffin. Trust me, it'll work."
"You're the boss, at least until Rafael tells me otherwise." He asked Ernie for the crosses. I could hear Ernie's voice protesting in tone, though not the words.
Bobby Lee came back on line. "He's worried that the crosses being in plain sight on the doors will impede ourvampires when they wake."
"Maybe, but I'm more worried about what our guests are doing right now. When night falls, we'll worry about it. Until then just do it."
"Are you ever going to explain to me why I'm doing it?"
"You want to know, fine, the new vamps are using vampire wiles to suck energy from Jean-Claude, and through him, me. I have felt like shit all day."
"You know, I like you, Anita, you explain things when I ask. I almost never understand what the hell you're talking about, but you talk to me like I'm bright enough to understand it, and know enough about magic to follow all the big words."
"I'm hanging up now, Bobby Lee."
I handed the phone to Micah so he could put it close to the pile of clothes, which I had no chance of reaching without dribbling water all over the place.
I leaned back against Micah, and he sank deeper into the water, so that even the tip of my chin was submerged. I wanted to sink in against his body, be held, and drowse. Now that the shadow was off of Jean-Claude, I was tired. It was almost as if now I had permission to sleep.
But there was one other crisis to talk about. "Jason told me that Nathaniel collapsed at work last night."
"He's tucked into his room, sandwiched between Zane and Cherry. He's fine." Micah kissed the side of my head.
"Is it true that he collapsed because the two of you can't keep feeding my ardeurtwice a day?"
Micah went very still around me, and his silence said it all.
"Did you know that the two of you couldn't sustain me?"
"You feed on Jean-Claude, too," he said.
"Fine, did you know that the three of you couldn't sustain me?"
"Jean-Claude keeps saying that your appetite should go down soon. The three of us could feed you if you only needed to be fed once a day. Twice a day is harder."
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked.
He hugged me, and I let him, but I wasn't happy.
"Because I know how hard it is for you to take new people to your bed. I was hoping you wouldn't have to."
That reminded me. "I sort of did."
"Did what?" he asked.
"Took someone else to my bed." I felt like I should be squirming with embarrassment, but my ability to be embarrassed wasn't what it used to be.
"Who?" he asked, voice soft.
"You and Jean-Claude," he made it more statement than question.
He cuddled me against him. "Why now?"
I told him my reasoning.
"You are going to make those vampires very unhappy tonight."
"I hope so." I turned in his arms enough to see his face. He looked peaceful enough by candlelight. "Does it bother you, about Asher?"
He seemed to think about it for a second or two. "Yes, and no."
"Explain the yes," I said.
"While you need the ardeurfed, there's plenty of your time to go around. I'm a little worried about what happens if you get a string of men now, with the ardeurrising, then the ardeurgoes away. You're going to have some unhappy people, if you get too many of them."
I frowned. "I hadn't thought about that. I mean I haven't had intercourse with anyone but you and Jean-Claude."
"I'll say what Jean-Claude would say if he were here: Ma petite,you are splitting hairs."
"Fine, fine, I don't plan on kicking Nathaniel out of my bed just because the ardeuris quiet."
"No, but will you be willing to touch him the way he's come to expect?"
I turned so I wouldn't have to meet those honest eyes of his. "I don't know, that's the truth, I don't know."
"One step at a time with him, okay."
I shook my head against Micah's chest. "That's moot. Richard can barely stand to be within twenty feet of me."
"Are you seriously saying that if he showed up today and asked to come back, you'd say no?"
It was my turn to go quiet in his arms. I thought about it, tried to think about it, clearly, level-headed. The trouble was that Richard was never a topic I was logical on.
"I don't know, but I'm leaning towards no."