"You're always sorry, Richard. Now get out of my head before I do something we'll both regret."
He pulled away, but it wasn't a clean break. Normally, his shields were solid like metal doors clanging down. Today, it was like taffy pulling apart, clinging to each other, huge tendrils of sticky, melting candy that even when pulled apart was still two halves of a whole. I wanted to pull us together, to melt into the heat until we were one big hot sticky mess, and today Richard couldn't stop me. He didn't have the control to keep me out of him.
Jean-Claude woke. I felt his eyes flash wide, felt him take that first gasping breath, felt life fill him. He was awake.
Jason was gazing at me with his sky blue eyes. "He's awake."
I nodded. "I know."
Nathaniel spoke as if he'd understood way more of the unheard conversation than he should have, "We're almost to the Circus, Anita."
"Five minutes, less."
"Make it less," I said.
The Jeep leapt forward, accelerating. I crawled into the backseat and fastened the seat belt tight across me. It wasn't to keep me safe in case we had an accident. It was to remind me not to let myself loose until we got to the Circus, and Jean-Claude.
I fought the ardeuron the drive to the Circus. I fought the ardeurwhen I ran through the parking lot and banged on the door. I ran past Bobby Lee's surprised face and managed to say, "Ask Nathaniel about the Jeep." Then I was past him and running for the stairs that led down, down to the underground.
Richard was running, too. He was running through the trees, limbs and leaves slashing at him, but he was never quite there, dodging, moving, like water made flesh, flesh made speed. He ran through the trees, and I heard something large crashing ahead of him. His head came up, and the chase was on.
I hit Jean-Claude's bedroom door, as Richard was catching glimpses of the deer that darted just ahead of him, sprinting for its life. There were other wolves in the forest, most of them in true wolf form, but not all.
I flung the door open and the guards on the door closed it firmly behind me. I don't know what they sensed, or what they saw, and that was probably just as well.
There were still blue silk sheets on the bed, and Asher was still framed in them, motionless, dead. Only the Master of the City was awake, only he moved. I sent a questioning thought and felt all the vampires asnooze in their coffins, tucked in their beds. I touched Angelito for a moment, and found him restless and pacing, confused, wondering why his mistress hadn't succeeded in her diabolical plan.
He looked up as if he saw me, or felt something, then I was back at the bathroom door. Richard had his deer down and struggling. A hoof caught him across the stomach, tore the skin, but there were other wolves there now, and the doe had no chance. A black furred wolf tore into her throat, and I felt Richard riding the deer in human form, holding her as the struggles grew slower, spasmodic, involuntary. The deer's fear faded, like champagne opened and left to go flat.
The bathroom door flung open, hitting the wall, and I didn't remember touching it. I was through the door before it slammed shut behind me, and again, I didn't remember touching it.
Jean-Claude was in the black marble tub. He was kneeling, his long black hair clinging to his shoulders. He'd cleaned up. Feeling me coming towards him like a storm of need, he'd run a bath. Of course, he'd felt me like a storm of desire before, it didn't always mean the storm would fall on him.
I could smell the fresh, hot blood, as Richard leaned down towards the deer's throat. The wolf that had actually made the kill had backed off, so the Ulfric could feed. The deer's skin smelled acrid, almost bitter, as if the fear had bled out of the skin. I did not want to be in Richard's head when he put his mouth to that flesh.
I climbed into the bathtub in my clothes, the hot water soaking my jeans almost to the tops of my thighs. "Help me," it came out in a whisper that I'd meant to be a scream.
Jean-Claude stood up, water streaming down the perfect whiteness of his skin, drawing my eyes down the length of his body, finding him soft and not ready for me. I screamed, and Richard sank teeth into skin that was covered in hair.
Jean-Claude caught me, or I would have fallen into the water. I suddenly couldn't feel Richard anymore. It was as if a door had slammed in my face and there was a second of blessed silence, a quietness that went all the way to my soul.
Jean-Claude spoke into that silence. "I can shield you from our Richard, ma petite,and he from you, but I cannot shield us both from the ardeur."
I stared up at him, where I'd half-swooned in his arms, his hands at my back, my body bowed down towards the water, my legs soaked with the hot liquid.
I opened my mouth to say something, then he was as good as his word, and the ardeurcame roaring back. I convulsed in his arms, and he nearly dropped me, trailing my hair in the water, pulling me upwards, pressing our bodies against one another. My hands, my mouth, my body swarmed over him, traced that slick, perfect skin, caressed the faint tracery of whip scars on his back, which were just another part of his perfection.
He drew back from my mouth enough to gasp, "Ma petite,I have not fed, there is no blood to fill my body."
I gazed up at him and found his eyes as normal as they ever got, midnight blue, lashed with black lace. But there was no power in them. Usually, by the time we've gotten this much foreplay in, his eyes had bled to pure pupilless blue.
I had to swim up through the ardeur,through the need to finally understand what he meant. I pushed my hair to one side, and said, "Feed, feed, then f**k me."
"I cannot roll your mind, ma petite,it will only be pain."
I shook my head, eyes closed, my hands tracing over the skin of his shoulders and arms. "Please, Jean-Claude, please, feed, feed on me."
"If you were in your right mind, you would not offer this."
I pulled the red T-shirt out of my pants, but had trouble pushing the straps of my shoulder holster down, as if I couldn't remember how. I screamed my frustration, wordless. Maybe because of that, or because Jean-Claude was trying to fight off too many things at once, I suddenly felt Richard feeding, hot flesh going in great gulps down his throat.
I choked, stumbled, collapsed against the edge of the tub, letting the hot water come up to my waist. I was going to be sick.
Jean-Claude touched my back, and I couldn't sense Richard anymore. "I cannot shield us from our wolf, fight both your ardeurand mine, and fight my own bloodlust. It is too much."
I sat on the edge of the tub, hands flat, trying to keep myself steady on the marble. "Then don't fight it all. Pick your battles."
"What battle should I choose?" he asked, voice soft.
The ardeurrose like a gentle wave, chasing back the nausea, cleansing me of the sensation of meat and flesh going down my throat. I hadn't realized the ardeurhad any gentleness to it.
As if he'd read my thoughts, Jean-Claude said, "If you do not struggle against the ardeur,it is not so terrible."
"Like the beast, if you accept it, it doesn't beat the hell out of you."
He gave a small smile. "Oui, ma petite."
The ardeurdrew me to my feet, and I wasn't shaky anymore. I was steady in my desire. I moved through the hot, thigh-deep water, my jeans clinging to me like a second skin, my jogging shoes sliding through the thickness of the water. I stood touching him only with my gaze. The strength of his thighs, the loose swelling of his groin, skin there slightly darker in color than the rest of him, the line of black hair that traced upward, around his belly button, to the smooth lines of his chest with the pale circles of his ni**les, and the flat whiteness of the cross-shaped burn scar. I came to the grace of his shoulders, the line of his neck, and finally the face. I was never sure how to look upon his face and not be overwhelmed. If it had just been the dark glory of his hair, I could have borne it, but his eyes, his eyes, the darkest blue they could be and not be black. They were the richest blue I'd ever seen. His eyelashes were so thick they were like black lace. The bones in his face were delicate, small and finely chiseled, as if whoever had made him had paid attention to every curve of his cheek, every turn of his chin, every sweep of brow, and finally the mouth. His mouth was simply beautiful. So red against the whiteness of his skin.
I touched his face, traced the edge of it from temple to chin, and my fingers clung to the beads of water on his skin, sticking, so that touching him wasn't smooth, or easy. The ardeurwas still inside me like a great warm weight, but I'd welcomed it this time, welcomed it chasing back Richard's beast, and I could think, though only about the man in front of me.