"Wait a minute, you're not just going to walk out," I said.
He stopped walking, but didn't turn around as he answered, giving a clear view of the perfection of the back of his body. "I cannot leave until Musette is gone. I will give her no excuse to take me back to the courts with her. If I belong to no one, she will do it, and I will have no grounds to refuse." He rubbed his hands over his arms as if he were cold. "When Musette is gone, I will petition for another Master of the City. There are those who would take me in."
I walked towards him. "No, no, you have to give me some time to think about what you did. It's not fair to walk off like this." I was almost to him when he whirled around, and the rage on his face stopped me like I'd hit a wall.
"Fair! What is fair in being offered everything you ever wanted and thought never to have again, only to have it torn from your grasp? Torn from your grasp because you did exactly what you were told you could do, what was asked of you." He didn't yell, but his anger filled his voice, so every word was like a red-hot poker flung at my face.
I didn't know what to say in the face of that anger.
"I will not, cannot, stay and watch you and Jean-Claude. I would rather be without the sight of either of you then so very close, but cast from your bed, your arms, your affections." He covered his face with his hands and gave a low scream. "To be with us as our lover is to be seduced by our powers." He tore his hands away from his face and let me see his eyes drowning blue, his anger making up for the lack of blood. "I had never dreamed that Jean-Claude had not done so." He looked at the other man, still sitting on the edge of the bed. "How could you be with her for so long and resist the temptation?"
"She is most adamantly against such things," Jean-Claude said. "At least you have had her willing blood, I have never been so blessed."
Asher frowned, and it sat badly on that lovely face, like an angel frowning. "That astounds me still, though I knew that. But she has bestowed her charms upon you, and now I will never know them."
This was all happening way too fast for me. "Jean-Claude understands the rules, and we both live by them." Of course, I'd been just about ready to change the rules, but I didn't think Asher needed to know right now.
Asher shook his head, sending that foam of gold hair gliding over his shoulders. "Even if I understood the rules, Anita, I could not abide by them."
That made me frown. "What do you mean?"
"Anita, we aren't human, no matter how much some of us pretend. But not all of what we are is bad. You have entered our world, but you deny yourself the best of us, while only seeing the worst. But most horrible of all, you deny Jean-Claude the best of his own world."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"He is celibate save for you, but he does not pleasure himself fully with you, or anyone else." He made a gesture that I didn't understand. "I see that look upon your face, Anita, that American look. Sex is not just intercourse, or even just orgasm, and that is especially true for us."
"Why, because you're French?"
He gave me such a serious look that my attempt at humor died in my chest like a cold weight. "We are vampires, Anita. More than that, we are Master Vampires of Belle Morte's line. We can give you pleasure that no other can give, and we can take pleasure as no other can experience it. By agreeing to limit himself, Jean-Claude has denied himself a great deal of what makes this existence bearable, even enjoyable."
I looked at Jean-Claude. "How much have you been holding back?"
He wouldn't meet my gaze.
"How much, Jean-Claude?"
"I cannot make my bite true pleasure as Asher can. I cannot roll your mind completely as he can." He still wouldn't look at me.
"That's not what I asked."
He sighed. "There are things that I can do that you have not seen. I have tried to abide by your wishes in all things."
"Well, I will not," Asher said.
We both looked at him.
"Anita will always find some reason to keep her from openly taking both of us. She cannot even allow her one vampire lover to truly be vampire. How could she possibly endure the full touch of two of them?"
"Asher," I said, but didn't know what else to say, all I knew was that my chest hurt, and it was hard to breathe.
"No, you will always find something in your men that is not good enough, not pure enough. You come to us out of need, even out of love, but it is never enough. You will not allow us to be enough even for ourselves." He shook his head again, in a flurry of brightness that shattered the lights like golden mirrors. "My heart is too fragile to play these games, Anita. I love you, but I cannot live, let alone love, like this."
"I don't even get an hour to digest that you used vampire wiles on me."
He put a hand on either of my shoulders, and the weight of his hands made my skin run warm. "If it's not this, it will be something else. I have watched you with Richard, Jean-Claude, and now Micah. Micah wins his way through your maze by simply agreeing to everything you ask. Jean-Claude wins his place on the edges of your labyrinth by cutting himself off from unbelievable pleasure. Richard will not walk your maze, because he has his own, and only one person can be this confusing in a relationship at one time. Someone has to be willing to compromise, and neither you nor Richard will compromise enough."
He let me go, and the absence of his hands almost staggered me, as if he'd taken away a shelter, and I was lost in the storm.
He began to walk backwards towards the door. "I thought I would do anything to be with Jean-Claude and his new servant. I thought I would do anything to be back in the safety of the arms of two people who loved me. But I understand now that your love will always come with conditions and that no matter how good your intentions, something holds you back, Anita. Something will not allow you to give yourself completely to the moment, to that shining thing called love. You hold yourself back, and you hold back those who love you. I cannot live being offered your love one moment and denied it the next. I cannot live being punished for what I cannot change."
"It's not punishment," I said, and my voice sounded strange, strangled.
He gave a sad smile and flung his hair over the scarred side of his face, so he stared at me with nothing but that perfect profile showing. "To quote you, ma cherie,the hell it is not." He turned and strode for the door.
I called after him. "Asher, please . . ." But he didn't stop. The door closed behind him, and the room filled with a profound silence.
Jean-Claude spoke into that silence, and his soft voice made me jump. "Gather your things, Anita, and go."
I looked at him, then, and my pulse was in my throat, and I was afraid, really afraid. "Are you kicking me out?" My voice didn't even sound like me.
"Non,but at this moment I need to be alone."
"You haven't fed, yet."
"Are you saying you would willingly feed me, now?" He didn't look at me as he asked it. He was staring at the floor.
"Actually, I'm sort of not in the mood anymore," I said, and my voice was fighting to get back to normal. Jean-Claude wasn't kicking me out of his life, but I didn't like that he wouldn't look at me.
"I will feed, but it will be only for food, and you are not food. So, please, go."
"Jean-Claude . . ."
"Just go, Anita, go. I need you not to be here right now. I need to not have to look at you, right now." The first stirrings of anger had trickled into his voice, like a fuse freshly lit and running with fire, but not truly burning up, not yet.
"Would saying I'm sorry help?" My voice was small when I asked.
"That you understand that you have something to apologize for is a beginning, but it is not enough, not today." He looked at me then, and his eyes glistened in the lights, not with power, but with unshed tears. "Besides, it is not me that you owe the apology to. Now go, before I say something that we will both regret."
I opened my mouth, drew a breath to reply, but he held up a hand and said, simply, "No."
I gathered my gun and shoulder holster from the bathroom. The wet clothes I left on the floor of the bathroom. I didn't look back, and I didn't try to kiss him good-bye. I think if I'd tried to touch him, he'd have hurt me. I don't mean struck me, but there are a thousand ways to hurt someone you love that have nothing to do with physical violence. There were words trapped in his eyes, a world of pain shining there. I didn't want to hear those words. I didn't want to feel that pain. I didn't want to see it, or touch it, or have it rubbed in the wounds in my own heart right that moment. I believed I was right, and a girl's got to have some standards. I don't let the vamps f**k with my mind, they just get my body. It had seemed a good rule an hour ago.