Belle poured that misty power on us, but though she raised gooseflesh and brought sighs to our lips, there was no more. She could not call Micah as her beast, because he was mine. She could not call my beast, because I was Micah's. We truly were Nimir-Ra and Nimir-Raj, and together we were enough to keep her out of us.
She turned those gold-flame eyes to someone behind us, and I felt her reach out to one of the leopards. I'd known somehow it would be Nathaniel. If she'd tried it before Micah and I had merged, he would have come to her, but now it was too late. We'd shut that gate and barred it. Belle Morte could not touch our leopards, not tonight.
"This is not possible," she said, and her voice had lost some of its purring caress.
Jean-Claude answered her doubt. "You can call almost all the big cats, but you cannot call the cats that answer to the Master of Beasts."
"Padma sits upon the council, you are one of my children. That I cannot take what belongs to another council member is merely truth. That any of my children could keep me from possessing what is theirs is impossible."
"Perhaps," Jean-Claude said, and he got to his feet. He offered a hand to both Micah and me. Normally, I don't let people help me up, but tonight I was wearing a long skirt, high heels, and had just had what amounted to metaphysical sex in public. We took his hands together, and he pulled us to our feet. Damian still had a death grip on my other hand, but he stayed on his knees, eyes still only half-focused, as if the power rush had thrown him more than it had the rest of us. He was the only one of us who wasn't either a master or an alpha something. I drew him in to sit against my legs, but didn't try and make him stand; it didn't look like he was ready to yet.
"By American standards," Jean-Claude said, "this did not count as sex."
Belle laughed, and the sound still shivered across the skin, but it was distant. Either we were too numb, or too shielded for her to touch. "The Americans do not count this as sex, that is absurd!"
"Perhaps, but true nonetheless. You and I would consider it sex, would we not?"
"Oh, oui,sex enough for one of my entertainments."
I almost felt Jean-Claude smile. I didn't have to see it. "Do you truly believe we have not done this and more with Asher?"
She looked at him, and her anger lashed through the room again like a wind off the lakes of hell. "I will not be turned aside so easily." She gestured back at the two dead vampires. "You have no idea what your human servant has taken from me. They were not merely vampires."
"They were lycanthropes," I said.
She looked at me, and there was more interest than anger in her now. Belle had always been more interested in power than being petty, though if she could be both, well, that would be the best of all worlds.
"How do you know this?"
"I felt their beasts, and I felt the beast from Mommy Dearest earlier today."
"Mommy Dearest?" She managed to look puzzled underneath all that glittering power.
"The Sweet Dark," Jean-Claude said.
"I felt her stir in her sleep, Belle. The Mother of All Darkness is waking up, that's why her children, as you put it, finally came to someone's call."
"I called them," she said.
"You can call all of the great cats, and among other things, they are cats. I'll bet the Master of Beasts could call them, too, if he tried," I said.
I thought for a moment she was actually going to stamp her foot--or rather Musette's--at me. "They came to my call, no one else's."
"Doesn't it worry you that the children of the dark are rising? Doesn't that scare you?"
"I have worked long and hard to amass enough power to wake the children of the dark."
I shook my head. "You felt her today, Belle, how can you stand there and not understand that this isn't your power going to a new level, it's hers waking up."
Belle Morte shook her head. "Non, ma petite,you are seeking to deter me from my revenge. I never forget an insult, and I always make sure someone pays the price for it." She walked up to us, and that glowing edge of power swirled at my full skirts, but it didn't catch my breath this time. It was power, and it crawled across my skin like lines of insects marching, but it wasn't seductive, it wasn't special. We'd all had so much power poured through us that we just didn't have anything left for more fun and games tonight.
She ran her hand down Micah's chest, and I felt his body tighten, but it wasn't the effect she was used to. She touched Jean-Claude's face, and he let her.
"Marvelous, as always, Belle."
"No, not as always," she said. She turned to me, then.
I didn't want her to touch me, but I knew that I could let her do it now. She wasn't here in the flesh, not really, and it limited her power. Intellectually I knew that, the cold hard feeling in my stomach wasn't so certain. I made myself stand still while she put that glowing hand against my face. Her hand didn't exactly burn where it touched, but it was hot, and the power spread from it, marching down my body like hot water poured from my face down my skin. It made me shiver and want to pull way, but I could tolerate it. I didn't have to pull away. I didn't have to run.
She drew her hand back, and there was a lingering sense of power between her hand and my skin. She brushed it against her skirt, Musette's skirt. I wondered, was Musette still in there? Did she know what was happening? Or did she go away, only to come back when Belle was finished?
She turned last to Damian. He tucked himself in tight against me, like a dog that was afraid of being hurt, but he didn't run. Belle touched his face. He flinched, not wanting to meet her eyes, but as he knelt at my legs, and nothing worse happened to him than the feel of power over his skin, he looked up, slowly. There was something like wonderment in his eyes, and behind that, triumph.
Belle jerked her hand back as if it had been she who was burned. "Damian is of my line, but not of yours, Jean-Claude. It is not your power that he tastes of." She looked at me, and there was something on that beautiful, alien face that I couldn't understand. "Why does he taste of your power, Anita? Not you of his, but he of yours."
I wasn't sure truth would help here, but I knew a lie wouldn't. "Would you believe me if I said I'm not quite sure."
"Oui,and non.You speak truth, but there is some evasion to it."
I swallowed and took a deep breath. I really didn't want Belle to know this part. I really didn't want it getting back to the council at large.
She looked at me, and her eyes went wide, and some of that glowing power began to seep away, sliding back into Musette's body, so that it was Musette with honey-brown eyes that met my gaze. "Somehow he is your servant. Our legends speak of this possibility. It is one of the reasons we once slew all necromancers on sight."
"Glad we've moved on from the good ol' days," I said.
"We have not, but when we thought you were Jean-Claude's human servant, then there was no harm, because your power was his." She shook her head and there was an afterimage of black hair over the blond, a dark ghost over all that bloodstained white. "Now I am not so certain. You taste of Jean-Claude's power, oui,but Damian tastes only of yours. And the leopards taste only of your power, also. No necromancer has ever had an animal to call."
She shook her head. "Jean-Claude with his new human servant and her servants, has been able to keep me at bay. If I were here in flesh instead of spirit, this would not save you, I think."
"Of course, it would not," Jean-Claude said, "your beauty would overwhelm us."
"No false flattery, Jean-Claude, you know how much I hate it."
"I did not know it was false."
"I am not so certain that my beauty would overwhelm any of you. Somehow this one," and she motioned at me, "has cut me off from the leopards, and somehow, you have cut me off from the vampires that descend directly from you."
My pulse sped up a bit at that, because I hadn't even felt her trying to take over Meng Dei or Faust. They were standing as far from the show as they could, dressed in the bodyguard black leather. Though both were so small compared to the rest that they looked out of place. Meng Die looked scared, Faust didn't. Which could have meant anything and nothing.
"But not every vampire in this room is a direct descendant of yours, Jean-Claude. Because I am not here in flesh you may keep me from the flock that is yours, but not what was first mine."