Merle stepped over the bodies of the dead vampires to take Musette's arm. The werehyenas looked pale, but happier. I'd just made all the muscle in the room happy, because things were simple now. We could kill them if they messed up again.
I caught Jean-Claude's expression. He was not happy. I'd made the soldiers' job easier, but not the politicians'. No, I think I'd just complicated the hell out of the political side of things.
Merle led Musette, none too gently over the bodies. She stumbled, and only a mass of werehyenas kept Angelito from grabbing her. Musette regained her balance, and the room suddenly smelled like roses.
I thought I'd choke on my own pulse as Musette raised her head and showed eyes the color of dark honey.
Belle-Morte looked at me, out of Musette's face, and I think I stopped breathing. All I could hear for a moment was the hammering of my own heart in my head. Sound returned with a rush, and Belle Morte's voice slid out of Musette's mouth.
"I am vexed with you, Jean-Claude."
Merle kept trying to drag her across the room. Either he didn't know the shit had hit the fan, or one vampire was all the same to him. He was about to learn otherwise.
"Release me," she said in a calm voice.
Merle dropped her arm as if she'd burned him. He backed away from her the way that Bobby Lee had backed away from Musette, with a look of pain, holding his arm as if it hurt.
"The leopard is her animal to call," Jean-Claude said, and his voice carried into yet another heavy silence. But I didn't have time to think about silence, because Belle was talking, saying awful things.
"I have been gentle up 'til now." She turned and looked back at the two dead vampires. "Do you know how long the council has been trying to wake up the Mother's first children?"
I think we all thought it was a rhetorical question, one we were afraid to answer.
She turned back to face us, and something swam underneath Musette's face, like a fish pushing against water. "But I awakened them. I, Belle Morte, awakened the Mother's children."
"Not all of them," I said, and immediately wished I'd kept my mouth shut.
She gave me a look that was so angry it burned, and so cold, it made me shiver. It was as if all that had ever been of rage and hatred were in that one look. "No, not all of them, and now you have taken two away from me. What ever shall I do to punish you?"
I tried to speak around the pulse in my throat, but Jean-Claude answered, "Musette broke the truce, and would not concede it. We have obeyed the law to the letter."
"It is true," Valentina said. The crowd of black leather-clad grown-ups moved so the child vampire could come and stand near Musette/Belle. Valentina kept out of reach, though. I noticed that.
"Speak, little one."
Valentina told the story of how Musette had withheld information about the child molestation and what had happened because of it. Musette's body turned to look at Stephen and Gregory. Gregory was holding his brother, rocking him. Stephen wasn't looking at anyone, or anything. Whatever his staring eyes saw, it was nothing in this room.
Belle turned back to us, and again there was that sense of another face swimming underneath, but this time I saw it like a ghost superimposed over Musette's face. Ghostly black hair bled over the blond, a face with more cheekbones, more strength to it, showed for a moment, before it sank back into the softer beauty of Musette.
"Musette did break truce first. I concede that."
Why was it that my heart rate didn't slow a single beat when she said that?
Her next words came out in a purring contralto, a voice like fur to caress the skin and ease across the mind. "You have acted within the law, and now so shall I. When Musette and the rest come back to me, Asher will come with them."
"Temporarily," Jean-Claude said, but his voice held doubt.
"Non,Jean-Claude, he will be mine as of old."
Jean-Claude took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "According to your own laws, you cannot take someone permanently away from those to whom he, or she, belongs."
"If he belonged to anyone, that would be true. But he is no one's pomme de sang,no one's servant, no one's lover."
"That is not true," Jean-Claude said, "he is our lover."
"Musette communicated with me, told me that she smelled your lies, your weak effort to keep Asher from her bed."
Belle was able to smell lies, too, if the lie was something she understood. No vampire could tell truth from falsehood if it was about something they didn't understand. If a vampire had no loyalty, they couldn't discern it in others--that sort of thing. I was going to try and give her something she could understand.
"I didn't think it was a weak effort," I said.
Jean-Claude gave me a look, and I shook my head at him. He stepped gracefully aside, because he knew I had a plan, but his voice whispered through my head, "Be careful, ma petite."
Yeah, I'd be careful.
Belle turned her borrowed body to look at me. "So you admit it was an attempt to lie to Musette."
"No, I said it wasn't weak. I found the whole thing embarrassing, exciting, wonderful, and terrifying. Being in bed with Asher wasn't exactly what I thought it would be."
"You haven't lied, yet," she said, and her voice was so rich, it was as if I should have been able to get down on the ground and roll myself up in it like some soft, warm, suffocating carpet. Her voice was enticing like Jean-Claude's and Asher's could be, but also frightening.
"We took Asher to our bed, and by European standards we are lovers."
"By European standards," she looked confused, and her face pushed out against Musette's. This time it was like a mask. The sense of something larger, more dangerous pushing against Musette's face. I knew through Jean-Claude's memories that Belle wasn't physically much bigger than Musette, but physical size wasn't all there was to Belle Morte. "I do not understand what that means, 'European standards'."
Jean-Claude answered, "Americans have a most peculiar idea that only intercourse between a man and a woman constitutes true sex. Anything else does not truly count."
"I taste truth, but I find it most odd."
"As do I, but it is still true." He gave that Gallic shrug.
I added, "What Musette kept smelling wasn't a lie, it was my hang-up that Asher and I hadn't had true intercourse. Trust me, we were all na**d and sweaty in the bed."
She turned that strange half-face to me. It would have looked more frightening if her face hadn't been surrounded by Musette's long blond banana curls. The Shirley Temple look was not meant for Belle. "I believe you, but by your own admission you are not lovers, not truly by your own standards. Thus, Asher is mine."
"You don't care about the truth, I forgot that," I said.
She narrowed those honey-gold eyes at me. "You have forgotten nothing, little one. You do not know me."
"I have Jean-Claude's memories, here and there. That's enough. They should have taught me better than to use truth."
She walked towards me, and as she did, her body seemed to fold over Musette's, so that she wasn't just a face, but a dress of dark gold, a longer arm, a pale hand with copper-colored nails. She moved like a ghost draped over Musette, so that you got glimpses of the other woman underneath. It wasn't perfect, Belle Morte wasn't really physically there, but it was close, and it was unnerving.
Jean-Claude had moved so that he touched me from behind by the time Belle came to stand in front of me. I leaned back against him, because she had marked me once, and that was without any physical touch. I leaned against Jean-Claude and fought the urge to draw his arms around me like a shield.
Belle stood so close that the edge of Musette's full skirt brushed my feet. Belle's ghostly dress seemed to bleed over my shoes, creep up my ankles. I couldn't breathe.
Jean-Claude moved us backwards, out of reach of that creeping power. I pulled his arms around me tight. Screw it, I was scared.
"If truth will not work with me, what will, ma petite?" Belle asked.
I found my voice, it was breathy, scared, but there was nothing I could do about it. "I am Jean-Claude's 'ma petite,'no one else's."
"But whatever he has is mine, so you are my ma petite."
I decided to let that argument go, for now. There were other more important ones I needed to win. "You asked if truth doesn't work with you, then what does?"
"Oui, ma petite,I did ask."