"What does this mean, 'repair his hair'?" Jean-Claude asked.
I sighed. "You know how you forgot to tell me about the plates on the floor?"
"I forgot to mention that Richard cut his hair off. I don't mean like go-to-the-beauty-parlor-and-get-it-styled. I mean hacked it off with scissors, himself."
Jean-Claude looked almost as horrified as I had. "His beautiful hair."
"Yeah," I said, "I know." I'd done my best not to think about it. I mean, Richard had said it, we weren't dating. It wasn't any of my business what length his hair was. My major concern was that sane happy people don't hack their hair off at home with scissors. Cutting your hair like that is usually a substitute for hurting yourself in other more permanent ways. Any counselor will tell you that.
Damian spoke, still on one knee, still holding my hand lightly. "They found someone to salvage what they could, but he is all but shorn."
Jean-Claude looked ill, which for a vampire is a neat trick. "Is he well enough for all this tonight?" I wasn't sure who he'd asked it of, maybe everyone, maybe no one. But Jean-Claude had grasped how bad a sign it was that Richard was "mutilating" himself.
"I'm not sure any of us are," I said.
He gave me an unfriendly look. "We are stronger than this, ma petite."
"Strong, yes, but tired. I guess, I can only speak for myself, but if Musette comes up to me one more time and asks me about Asher, I'm going to smack her."
"That is against the rules, ma petite."
"What would make her stop nagging us about Asher? Does she have to see us f**king in front of her to back off?"
Damian was stroking my hand in his. I jerked back from him. "I don't want to calm down. I'm pissed, and I have a right to be pissed."
"A right, oui,but not the luxury, ma petite."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Anger without purpose is luxury tonight, ma petite,and we cannot afford it. We do not wish to give Musette any reason to cross the boundaries that we have so carefully negotiated."
He was right, and I hated it. "Fine, fine, you're right, you're always f**king right about the political shit. But then what are we going to do to make Musette stop asking about Asher?"
"I have one possible solution," Jean-Claude said.
The solution had to wait, because Micah came through the curtain with Nathaniel and Merle in tow.
Nathaniel's outfit was mostly cream colored strips of leather that covered almost nothing. A white thong covered his front, but left his bu**ocks bare. He had cream colored boots that were over the knee but open in back, so you got glimpses of his legs to mid-calf when he walked away from you. There was a three-inch heel on the boots, and Nathaniel knew how to make the heel work for him. I knew he wore less than this almost every night at Guilty Pleasures, but it bugged me, until Nathaniel assured me he was fine with it. Stephen had styled Nathaniel's auburn hair, looping it back and over itself, to form the largest French braid I'd ever seen. French braids just aren't meant to hit the knees. The delicate eye makeup was almost overwhelming to his violet eyes, making them almost painfully, shockingly beautiful. Lipstick had shaped his mouth and made it kissable, even from a distance. He would have looked like a girl, except that the outfit left no doubt that the body it was almost covering was very male.
Merle was wearing a variation of what all the bodyguards would be wearing: black leather. Black leather pants over black boots with silver points, a black T-shirt under a black leather jacket. Merle had had his own outfit. He was six feet plus with gray-streaked hair that fell to his shoulders and a mustache and partial beard that were both a darker gray than his hair. He looked like what he was--a longtime biker and hard case. At the moment he was livid, so angry that his beast was rolling in the air around him like an almost visible presence.
"What happened?" I asked.
Merle growled, "If that bastard touches my Nimir-Raj one more time, I'm going to tear off his arm and shove it up his ass."
Jean-Claude and Asher said in unison, "Paolo."
"Yes," Merle growled.
Micah looked amused. I don't think it bothered him, but not much bothered Micah. He was one of the most easygoing people I'd ever met. I guess he had to be to survive as my boyfriend.
"It isn't bothering me, Merle."
"That's not the point," the big man said. "It's insulting. It shows he has no respect for us."
"It's Paolo," Asher said, "he has no respect for anyone, except Belie."
"Let me guess," I said, "Paolo's pawing Nathaniel, too."
Merle gave a low, skin-crawling growl.
The curtains opened, and Bobby Lee stuck his head and shoulders in. "Unless we can just start tearing people up, you better get back in here."
We exchanged a look, sighed almost as a group, and we got back in there.
There was a wall of our black leather-clad bodyguards--wererats, werehyenas, wereleopards--so that we couldn't see who was making a high piteous noise.
"Make a hole," I said. I was ignored.
Merle yelled, "Make a hole, people," and the bodyguards parted like a black leather ocean.
It was Stephen making the noise. He had pressed himself up against the far wall, as if he were trying to shove himself into it and out the other side. Valentina was in front of him. She wasn't doing anything to him that I could see, or even feel. But she was standing very close, one tiny hand hovering in front of him.
Gregory was pressed into a different space. Bartolome stood just in front of him, a look of near rapture on his young face. I concentrated on the vampire and I felt him feeding, feeding on Gregory's terror. I'd known a vampire or two that could cause fear in others, then feed. I hadn't known it was a power that Belle's line carried.
Stephen screamed, and the sound whipped me around to see that Valentina had laid a tiny hand on his bare stomach. She wasn't feeding on his fear. She wasn't hurting him in any way that I could see. Stephen hid his face, his long blond curls tangling across his made-up face, his na**d upper body pressed into the stone, as if he thought he could make himself disappear.
Valentina slid her tiny hand down his waist, to the h*ps of his white leather pants, and that tore another scream from Stephen's throat. I suddenly had a clue why the twins were terrified of the children.
Bobby Lee pushed his way beside me. "Bodyguards are supposed to go first, Anita, not second."
I ignored the anger, because I knew it was frustration. We'd told the guards that we could not start violence under any circumstances, that Musette and her crew had to break truce first. As far as I was concerned this did break truce.
I started towards Stephen, and a strange vampire barred my way. I knew suddenly why our guards were simply standing there with their hands in their proverbial pockets. The vampire wasn't that tall, but he was bulky, and it wasn't just muscle. There was something to the hunch of his shoulders. The shape of his head was wrong, somehow. There was nothing specific I could put a finger on, except that he hit the radar as not human. Not human in ways different from other vampires.
He was also one of the few Black vampires I'd ever seen. Some people theorized that the same genetics that made many people of African descent immune to malaria also made them less likely to become vampires. He stood there looking at me, with his dark skin still somehow strangely pale, like chocolate ivory. His eyes were golden yellow, and the moment I looked into them, the words not humancame to mind.
Another scream tore the air. It didn't matter what the thing in front of me was, or wasn't. I didn't care.
I tried sidestepping, and the vampire moved with me, not threatening, but not letting me through either. The room was suddenly quiet, so quiet. Gregory's voice came first, unnaturally loud in the tense silence. "Don't make me do this, oh, God, don't make me do this!"
Jean-Claude was murmuring to Musette, and I heard her voice, just a word or two in French. She was basically saying they hadn't broken truce, this was only entertainment.
I felt my shoulders relax, felt the decision settle into the center of my body. I stared up at the vampire. "You are a coward, an ugly, child-abusing coward."
The vampire didn't react, he ignored me, and I didn't think it was simply bodyguard cool. I tried a few more choice insults, concerning everything from his parentage to his physical appearance, and got glazed blinks. He didn't speak English. Good.