I shook my head. "There's more holes than cloth."
He smiled at me. "I'm food, so you've got to be able to reach the blood. Jean-Claude didn't want anyone to have an excuse to undress anyone."
I glanced at Jean-Claude. "He's not feeding any of these people."
"Non, ma petite,he is ours, and ours alone, but we do not want to have to undress him either. If all of us keep our clothes firmly in place, then so will they. It would be a faux pax of gigantic proportions if they undress their food and we do not. It is our house, and our rules."
Put that way it was hard to argue, but I still wanted to. Then I looked at Micah's face more closely. "He's wearing eye makeup." I got off the chair that I'd sat in while Stephen fixed me and walked closer to Micah. He was wearing more than just eye makeup, but it was all so artfully done that you didn't see it at first.
"I could not resist those eyes," Jean-Claude said, "they deserved to be decorated."
Micah's hair was tied completely back from his face in a bun that was a graceful mix of French braid and sheer art. "Where did all the curl go?" I asked.
"It has been blow dried straight," Jean-Claude said. He came and almost touched Micah's hair, to show how lovely it was. "He did not protest anything that we did to make him so pretty." Jean-Claude gave me a look, out of his own black-lined eyes. "It was a refreshing change."
Micah blinked those amazing eyes that someone's art had made even more amazing. "You don't like it?"
I shook my head. "No, I like it. I mean, you're beautiful." I shrugged. "I don't know, it's just a very different look for you." I turned to Jean-Claude. "I've never seen you in this much makeup."
"Belle Morte broke me of wishing to see myself this way." He was shielding as he said it, as if whatever memory went with those words was nothing he wanted to share.
"So why pretty Micah up like this?"
"You don't like it," Micah repeated.
I frowned. "That's not it. Why do it now? What do we gain by having you look like this, because don't try and tell me there's no purpose to it." I turned to include Asher in his chair across the room in the look I gave Jean-Claude. "Neither of you would go to this much trouble tonight without a reason. I've heard nothing but both of you complaining that we don't have enough time to get everyone presentable for the banquet." I gestured at Micah. "This took a lot of time that could have been used elsewhere. So I'm asking, both of you, what gives?"
They exchanged a look, then Asher looked studiously at the floor. He pretended to be studying his perfectly manicured fingernails, but I wasn't fooled.
I turned back to Jean-Claude. "Out with it," I said.
He shrugged. It wasn't so much graceful as almost embarrassed. "Musette was finally forced to give us the complete guest list. She has withheld only three names, because they are part of the gift from Belle."
"So three mystery guests, what does that have to do with why you dolled Micah up?"
"One of the vampires coming tonight has an eye for a beautiful man. Both Asher and I fell afoul of him, more than once."
"And," I said.
"To flaunt such delectable meat in front of his table, yet not allow him a taste or a touch, pleases us."
"So you're being petty," I said.
Jean-Claude was suddenly angry, it showed in his face, filled his eyes with blue fire. "You do not understand, ma petite.Belle has sent Paolo to torment us. He is to remind us what we were, and how helpless we were. We went to anyone that Belle gave us to, anyone. She did not do it casually, but if our bodies in another's bed would gain her something she wished, then she used us, and let others do the same."
He stalked in a tight circle, the black coat floating out around him like dark wings. "The thought of sitting at the same table with Paolo again sickens me, and Belle knew that it would. I loathe him in a way that I do not wish to describe. But we cannot harm him, ma petite.Belle has sent him to torment both of us by his mere presence. He will smirk and leer and remind us with every look, every touch of his hands on someone else, what he once was allowed to do to us."
Jean-Claude came to stand in front of me, his anger beating in the air like invisible flames. "But this we can do, ma petite,we can flaunt the bounty at hand. We can show Paolo what I am able to touch, and Asher is able to touch, but Paolo cannot have. Paolo is one of those men who always wants what others have. It eats at his soul if he cannot have, in every way, whomever he desires." He touched fingertips down my neck and left a trail of heat on my skin that made me gasp, almost pain, almost pleasure. "I want Paolo to suffer, if only a little, because I do not have it within my power to make him suffer a great deal."
I looked up into Jean-Claude's angry, angry face, and sighed. "It's going to be like this all night, isn't it? Belle's only sent people that make you uncomfortable, or that you hate, or hate you."
"Now, ma petite.We fear Musette, and Valentina. I believe Bartolome came because he is bored. Paolo is the first name that truly incenses me."
I touched Jean-Claude's face, holding that anger against the palm of my hand. His eyes bled back to normal, or as normal as they ever get. I looked past him to Micah. "You okay with fang-teasing some male vampire?"
"As long as I don't have to come across, I'll play."
That made me smile. "If Micah's okay with it, so am I." I cradled Jean-Claude's face between my hands, but was trying for eye contact not a kiss. "But let's keep our eye on the ball, revenge is not why we're here tonight."
He put his hands over mine and held them both against his face. "We are here tonight because Belle Morte is le sourdre de sangof our line, and we cannot refuse her right to send visitors our way. But make no mistake, ma petite,Musette and her company are here to have revenge upon us."
"Revenge for what?" I asked.
Asher answered from across the room, "Revenge for us leaving her, of course."
I looked at him. "Why of course?"
They exchanged another look, one that I couldn't read. It was Jean-Claude who said, "Because Belle Morte believes herself to be the most desirable woman in the world."
I gave him raised eyebrows. "She's beautiful, I'll grant you. But the most beautiful woman in the world, come on! I mean it depends on what you consider beautiful. Some people like brunettes, some people like blonds."
"I said the most desirable, ma petite,not beautiful."
"I don't get the difference."
He frowned at me. "Men have killed themselves when she exiled them from her bed. Wars have been fought between rulers who were driven mad at the thought of any other man sharing Belle Morte's favors."
It was my turn to frown. "Are you saying that once you've had Belle Morte that no one else will do?"
"That is her belief."
I looked at him. "You and Asher left, twice apiece."
"Exactement ma petite,do you not see?"
"If we left her bed, if there is any touch that we prefer to hers, then perhaps she is not the most desirable woman in the world."
I thought about that for a second. "So, this entire expedition is to punish you two?"
"Not entirely. I believe Belle does want to test the ground, as it were, before she visits herself."
"Why does she want to visit at all?"
"It will be something political, of that you can be sure," Jean-Claude said.
"So punishing the two of you this time is what, an extra treat?"
They started to do another of those looks, but I touched Jean-Claude's face, forced him to look at me. "No, no more mysterious looks, just say it."
"Belle is the most desirable woman in the world, her entire power base, her entire self-image is built on that. She must find a way to understand why we left, and why we prefer to stay away, even now."
"So," I said.
"You are being too subtle," Asher said, pushing himself to his feet and striding over to us.
"Fine, you tell me," I said.
"Just as Belle saw Julianna as a threat, so she will see you. But we hope to convince her that it is not another woman alone that keeps us entertained, but a man. Belle never did see men as competition, not as she did a woman."
"So that's why you've prettied Micah up."