"Bobby Lee," I said.
He leaned in close to me, trying even now to insinuate his body between me and the big bad vampire. "Yes, ma'am."
"Overwhelm him with numbers."
"Can we cut him up?"
"Then we can't overwhelm him for long."
"I only need a minute."
He gave a small nod. "I might just squeeze a minute out of this mess."
I met his eyes. "Do it."
He made a signal with his hand, and all the wererats moved at once. I sidestepped the mass of black leather, and went quickly to Valentina and Stephen.
I was talking before I'd really gotten to them. I wouldn't have much time. Micah appeared beside me. Merle and Noah, Micah's second bodyguard, were practically pressed to his back. I'd made sure all my bodyguards were busy with the vampire. If things went wrong, I wasn't sure either Merle or Noah would protect me if it meant endangering Micah. Oh, well.
"Stephen had been abused as a child. He was used for sex by his own father, and sold to other men," I said as I moved forward. I remembered what Jean-Claude had said, that Valentina hated child molesters because of her own past.
She turned that tiny heart-shaped face to me, her hand still caressing Stephen's shoulder. He had collapsed to the floor, huddled in an almost fetal position.
I was beside them now, and the noises behind me were escalating. There was going to be a fight soon, a bad one. "I swear to you that what I say is true. Look at him, look at the terror your touch inspires in him."
Stephen wasn't looking at either of us. His eyes were squeezed closed, and his tears had smeared the eye makeup to black tracks down his face. He hugged his body tight. He'd given himself up and over to what was happening, as if he were still a child.
Valentina looked down at him, and something like horror began to grow on her face. She stared at her tiny hand, as if it were something awful that had just appeared at the end of her arm.
She shook her head. "Non, non," and more French that I couldn't follow.
"He's coming," Merle said, and I felt him and Noah brace themselves in front of Micah and me.
I touched Valentina's arm, and she raised eyes glassy with shock and turned towards me. "Call off Bartolome, tell him why Gregory's afraid of him."
I felt the impact of the vampire slamming into Merle and Noah, and they pressed forward, taking the fight away from us by a few feet. Micah stood over me, ready. He could shape-shift and use claws, but he just didn't have enough body mass to stop the vampire.
Valentina's voice cut through the fighting, echoed through the room, and I realized she was using vampire powers to make herself heard, "We broke truce first, first blood is on our hands."
Musette screamed, "Valentina!"
Valentina repeated herself in French this time. The fighting slowed at Valentina's words, slowed, and began to die.
Valentina turned to face Musette, who was in a dress of all white, so that she looked like a bride. "It is truth, Musette. These two men have been abused enough by us. I will not let it continue."
"He was so afraid of me Valentina, such fear to feed on," Bartolome said, "now you've spoiled it." The slender boyish figure was dressed in nearly solid gold, old-fashioned, very seventeenth century, cloth, so that he sparkled as he moved.
Valentina spoke low and soft, in rapid French. Bartolome's face didn't pale, but he looked back at Gregory. He turned to look at me. "Is this true? Their own father?"
Gregory's sobs were loud in the sudden stillness.
"To force yourself on children is an evil thing," Bartolome said, "to use your own sons," he spat on the floor and said something in what I recognized was Spanish but couldn't follow.
"I brought them here tonight so they'd be under my protection, safe. Their father has returned recently, and is trying to meet with them again. They are here so he couldn't find them. I didn't think about the two of you."
"We would not have done this if we had been told," Bartolome said.
"Musette was told," Jean-Claude's voice seemed to fill the tension like water in a cup.
We all turned to Jean-Claude, who was standing not too far off, near the mass of bodyguards that had taken on a second vampire like the one that had kept me from Stephen. "I told her of Gregory and Stephen's past, because the moment Stephen saw Valentina and Bartolome, he said he could not feed them. That the memories it would waken would be too much for him to bear. I did tell Musette this. If I had not warned her, I would never have left Stephen and Gregory out here without Anita or myself to guard them."
All of us now turned to look at Musette. She was not wearing a wig, but had curled her hair into long banana curls so she looked like a porcelain doll, with her red lips, her carefully made up eyes, her pale skin, and the white seventeenth-century dress with its attached cape. Nothing would ever take her beauty from her, but physical beauty isn't enough to make up for sadism.
"Is this true?" Valentina asked.
"Now, ma poulet,would I do such a thing?"
"Yes," Valentina said, "yes, you would."
The two child vampires stared at Musette, stared at her wordlessly, until it was she who looked away, she who blinked big blue eyes. For a moment I saw what I thought I'd never see. Musette was embarrassed.
"Bobby Lee, capture her ass."
"Ma petite,what are you doing?"
"I know the rules, Jean-Claude, they've forfeited their safe conduct in our territory. That means that we are within our rights to put her under house arrest until her little company leaves."
"But we cannot harm her, she is too important to Belle," he said.
"Sure," I said. I glanced at Bobby Lee. "Escort her back to her room and put the cross back on the door."
He looked at me, then at Jean-Claude. "You mean, just like that, we can hurt them, jail them?"
He sighed. "Wished it worked that way with the shape-shifters."
"Occasionally, the vampires being so civilized comes in handy."
Bobby Lee grinned at me, and he and Claudia and about half a dozen others moved towards Musette. Angelito moved in front of her, blocking her from view. Her voice rang clear, though hidden, "Do not fear, Angelito, the wererats will not touch me."
Bobby Lee and Claudia were facing off with Angelito. He made them both look small. "We can do this easy, or hard." Bobby Lee said, "Move, and we all go quiet to the rooms. Stay put, and we'll hurt you, then drag your ass back to the rooms." There was an eagerness to his voice that said he was hoping for a fight. I think they all were. None of them had liked having to stand by and watch Gregory and Stephen be tormented.
"Move aside, Angelito," Musette said. "Now."
Angelito moved, his face showing how reluctant he was to do so. I was surprised that Musette was being so cooperative. She'd struck me as someone who'd have to be carried off kicking and screaming.
Bobby Lee reached out for Musette. She said, "Do not touch me." He stopped in mid-motion as if his hand had frozen in place.
"Take her, Bobby Lee," I said.
"I can't," he said, and there was something in his voice that I'd never heard before. Fear.
"What do you mean, you can't?" I asked.
He took his hand back, slowly, and cradled it against his chest, as if it had been hurt. "She told me not to touch her, and I can't."
"Claudia," I said.
The big woman shook her head. "I can't."
The first hint I had about how wrong things had gone was the real rat that waddled up to sniff at Musette's white skirts. It looked up at her with shiny black button eyes.
I looked at Musette, and her blue eyes had bled solid, so that she looked like a blind blond doll. Her face was exultant with triumph.
"Rats are your animal to call," I said.
"Didn't Jean-Claude tell you?" and the laughter in her voice said clearly, she knew he had not.
"He forgot to mention it."
"I did not know," Jean-Claude said. "Her only animal to call two centuries ago was the bat." His voice sounded empty, hiding whatever he was feeling.
"She gained the rat as her second animal about fifty years ago," Asher said.
I gave him a look. "It would have been nice to know that."
He shrugged. "It never occurred to me that anyone would actually try to put Musette under guard."