"You look serious, ma petite,what are you thinking about so solemn-faced?"
"You," I said, voice soft.
"Why should that make you look so solemn?" The humor began to leak away from his face, and I knew without being a hundred percent sure that he was thinking I was about to run away again. He'd probably been worried about that from the moment I shared a bed with him and Asher. I usually ran after I'd made some big breakthrough. Or would that be breakdown?
"A surprisingly wise friend told me that I hold back some part of myself from all the men in my life. He said that I do it to keep myself safe, to keep myself from being consumed by love."
Jean-Claude's face had gone very careful, as if he were afraid for me to read his expression.
"I wanted to argue, but I couldn't. He was right."
Jean-Claude looked at me, face still empty, but there was a tightness around his eyes, a wariness that he couldn't quite hide. He was waiting for the blow to fall, I'd taught him to expect it.
I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and finished, "What I hold back from you is sharing blood. We fed the ardeuroff each other now, but I still won't let you take blood."
Jean-Claude opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it. He'd sat up straighter, hands clasped in his lap. It wasn't just his face he was fighting to keep neutral, even his body language was so very careful.
"I asked you to feed off me a few minutes ago, and you said not while the ardeurwas riding me. Not while I was intoxicated." I had to smile at the choice of words, because intoxicatedwas a good description of the ardeur.Metaphysical liquor.
"I've fed the ardeur,we both have. I'm not intoxicated any more."
He'd gone very still, that utter stillness that the old vampires could do. It was like if I looked away, he wouldn't be there when I looked back. "We have both fed the ardeur,that much is true."
"Then I'm still offering blood."
He took a deep breath. "I want this, ma petite,you know that."
"But why now?"
"I told you, I had a talk with a friend."
"I cannot give you what Asher gave you, gave us, yesterday. With my marks upon you, I may not be able to roll your mind at all. It will be only pain."
"Then do it in the middle of pleasure. We've proven more than once that my pain/pleasure sensors get a little confused when I'm excited enough."
That made him smile. "As do mine."
That made mesmile. "Let's fool around."
"And then?" he asked, voice low.
"When it's time, take blood, and then let's f**k."
He gave a surprised burst of laughter. "Ma petite,you are such a sweet-talker, how can I refuse?"
I leaned into him, pressed a gentle kiss upon his lips, and said, "Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies! Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips, and all is dross that is not Helena."
He gazed into my face with such longing. "I thought you said you could not remember more of the play."
"I remembered more," I whispered, "do you?"
He shook his head, and we were so close that his hair brushed against mine so that you couldn't tell where one blackness left and the other began. "Not with you this close to me, no."
"Good," I smiled, "but promise some night we'll get the whole play and take turns reading it to each other."
He smiled, and it was the smile I'd come to value more than any other, it was real and vulnerable, and I think one of the few things left of the man he might have been if Belle Morte had not found him. "I swear it, and gladly."
"Then help me peel off these wet jeans and leave the poetry for another night."
He cupped my face in his hands. "It is always poetry between us, ma petite."
My mouth was suddenly dry, and it was hard to swallow past my pulse. My voice came breathy, "Yeah, but sometimes it's dirty limericks."
He laughed as he kissed me, then he helped me out of the wet jeans, and the wet socks, and the wet shoes, and the wet everything. When my cross spilled out of my shirt, it didn't glow. It just lay there glinting in the overhead lights. Jean-Claude averted his eyes, as he always did when he saw a holy object, but that was the only hint I had that the cross bothered him. I realized with a start that I'd never worn a cross around Jean-Claude and had it glow at him. What did that mean?
I'm usually pretty straightforward except in emotional areas, but I was trying to be different, change that, so I asked. "Does it really hurt you to look at my cross?"
He looked determinedly at the edge of the bathtub. "No."
"Then why look away?"
"Because it will start to glow, and I do not want that."
"How do you know that it'll start to glow?"
"Because I am a vampire, and you are a true believer." He was still staring at the water, the marble of the tub, anywhere, and everywhere except at my chest with the cross still hanging around it.
"I've never had a cross glow when you were the only vampire around."
He glanced up at that, then quickly down. "That cannot be true."
I thought about it some more. "I can't ever remember it happening. You look away, then I take the cross off, and we go on about our business, but it doesn't glow."
He shifted in the water enough to send little splashes against my legs. "Does it matter?" His voice held just how unhappy he was with the line of conversation.
"I don't know," I said.
"If you do not wish me to feed, then I will go."
"It's not that, Jean-Claude, honest."
He put a hand on the edge of the tub and stepped out.
"Jean-Claude," I said.
"Non, ma petite,you do not want this, or you would not cling to your holy object." He took a vibrant blue towel that matched the sheets on the bed and began to dry off.
"My point is . . . oh, hell, I don't know what my point is, just don't go." I put my hands back to unfasten the clasp of the chain, and the door opened. Asher stepped inside, coated in dried blood, all of it mine. That should have bothered me, but it didn't. His hair still fell around his shoulders like spun gold, and with Asher, it wasn't a euphemism for blond. His hair was like gold spun to thick, soft waves. His eyes a blue so pale it was like winter skies, but warmer, more . . . alive. He walked towards us, his long body nude and perfect. The scars didn't make him less perfect, they were simply a part of Asher, and nothing marred the godlike grace as he moved into the room. He was so beautiful it stopped my breath in my throat, made my chest ache to see him. I wanted to say, come to us,but my voice was gone in the sheer wonder as he glided towards us on narrow bare feet.
The cross flared to life, not the white-hot glow it had had in the Jeep, but bright enough. Bright enough to leave me blinking. Bright enough to help me think. Asher was still beautiful, nothing could change that, but now I could breathe, move, talk. Though I had no idea what to say. I'd never had a cross glow around him either, until now.
It was Jean-Claude who said it, "What have you done, mon ami,what have you done?" He had his back to the glow of the cross and was using the towel to help shield his eyes.
Asher had thrown up an arm to protect his own pale blue gaze. "I tried to roll her mind just enough for pleasure, but the ardeurwas too much."
"What have you done?" Jean-Claude asked again.
I watched them both in the light of the cross, one hiding behind the blue towel, the other his own arm, and I answered for him, "He rolled me. He rolled my mind, completely and utterly." Even as I said it, I knew he'd done more than that. I'd been rolled before. I'd even been rolled once upon a time by Jean-Claude when first we met. But vampire powers to cloud the mind are a dime a dozen, most of them can do it. Most of the young ones have to capture you with their gaze, but the old ones can simply think at you. I was immune to most of it, partly natural ability as a necromancer, and part Jean-Claude's marks. But I wasn't immune to Asher. The cross kept glowing, the vampires kept shielding their eyes, and even with them hiding away from the white light, I still wanted them, both of them, but now I had to wonder how much of it was me, and how much of it was Asher's mind tricks. Damn it.
We ended up in the bedroom but not for anything fun. I'd dried off and thrown on extra clothes that I kept at the Circus. I had to put the wet shoes back on though. My cross was safely underneath my shirt again. Once it went under the shirt, it stopped glowing, but there was still a pulsing warmth to it.