"Jason must come with me," there was no outright pleading in his voice, Shang-Da did not beg, but there was a softness there, room to compromise.
"For now," I said.
Jason had worked his way behind me, using me as shield against the bigger man. And being Jason, using the excuse to lean his nearly nude body against the back of my velvet and silk-clad one. He laid a gentle kiss on the back of my neck, and it made me shiver. "I can't go back to being just another pack member, I can't."
I knew what he meant, or thought I did. I answered without trying to make eye contact, as he kissed softly across the bare skin where neck met shoulders. Him playing with my neck was making it hard to concentrate. "Only for tonight."
"What is it with you, Anita? Does everyone want to f**k you?" It was Richard. When he was really angry he could be more hateful than anyone I'd ever dated. The fact that he said the word f**ktold me exactly how nasty he was going to be tonight. God, I didn't want to do this, shovel emotional shit while the big bad vampires munched on us.
I was close enough to see the look in Shang-Da's eyes; he didn't like what his Ulfric had said. I touched his face, which made him jump. I leaned in close enough that from Richard's point of view it probably looked like a kiss, but I whispered against Shang-Da's mouth, "Jason's yours tonight, but this can't be permanent."
Shang-Da stayed close, so that he breathed his answer on my lips, "We will discuss it."
He began to lean back and I caught the back of his head with my hand. "There will be no discussion."
His face went hard with his usual anger. He moved back forcefully enough that I either had to let him go, or take a handful of hair to keep him close to me. I let him go.
He held his hand out and said, "Your Ulfric wants you to stand with the wolves." His voice held only one emotion, and that dimly--anger.
Jason slid out from behind me, trailing his fingers across every piece of bare skin he could find, until he left me shuddering. Shang-Da led him away one hand on the smaller man's arm. Jason kept his gaze on me, like a child being carried away by scary strangers. But he wasn't really in immediate danger, and I couldn't say that about everybody in the room. Unfortunately.
"Maybe I should have made you Erato instead of Bolverk." Erato had been the muse of erotic poetry, among other duties. Now she was the title among most werewolves for the female that helps new little werewolves control their beast during sex. Eros, god of love and lust, was the male title. More first time shape-shifters lost control and killed people during sex than during any other single event. The point of orgasm is to lose control, after all.
I looked across the room at Richard, met his angry brown eyes, and felt nothing. I wasn't angry. It was too ridiculous that he was fighting like this in front of Musette and her people. It was beyond ridiculous, it was foolish.
"We'll discuss this when our company goes back home, Richard," I said, and there was no anger in my voice. I sounded reasonable, ordinary.
Something crossed Richard's face, something that leaked through his tight shields. Rage. He was soangry. He'd turned that anger inward, and the depression had eaten him, to the point where he cut his hair. He'd pulled himself out of the depression, but he was still angry. If the anger couldn't go inward, then it had to go outward. Outward seemed to be directed at me. Great, just great.
"If you're Bolverk, then come and stand with your pack," his voice vibrated with the rage that he was having trouble containing.
I blinked at him for a second. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"If you are truly Bolverk for our clan, then you need to stand with us." He met my gaze, and there was no flinching in him now, no softness. I'd waited for him to stop flinching. I'd never dreamed it could mean this.
Jamil walked back across the room with Stephen held in his arms. Gregory was still clinging to Stephen's hand, so they moved as a unit. When Jamil was back with the wolves, Richard said, "Gregory is not one of us. He cannot stand with us."
I couldn't hear what Jamil said, but I think he was trying to persuade Richard that that wasn't necessary. Richard shook his head, then Jamil made a mistake. He looked back at me, and with his eyes alone asked for help. He'd done it before, many times, most of them had. Tonight, Richard saw it, understood it, and didn't tolerate it.
He grabbed Gregory's wrist and tried to jerk him away from Stephen. Stephen screamed and reared up in Jamil's arms, clinging with both hands to his brother's arm.
I'd had enough. I didn't care if Belle heard it all. I moved across the floor toward the pack. "Richard, you're being cruel."
He didn't stop trying to pull them apart. "I thought you wanted me cruel."
"I wanted you strong, not cruel." I was almost to them, and not sure what I was going to do when I got there.
"You're strong and you're cruel."
"Actually, I'm strong and pragmatic, not cruel." I was beside them now, and I knew I didn't dare touch anyone. If I touched Richard, or the twins, it would lead to more violence. I could feel it.
Stephen was making a high piteous noise like a baby rabbit being eaten alive. He was scrambling with his hands, trying to hold on to Gregory. Gregory was crying and trying to hold on to his brother.
"Pragmatic is saying that you're making us look weak in front of a council member. Cruel is saying that I'm Bolverk because you don't have the balls to be."
He stopped pulling on the twins, and Jamil took that one moment of hesitation to slide away. Of course, that left me facing Richard alone. And it was one of those moments when I realized how physically imposing he was. Richard was one of those big men who don't seem big, until suddenly, they do, and you go, oh, God, and it's usually too late.
We stood, glaring at each other. I hadn't been angry until he'd tried to hurt Stephen and Gregory. But once you get me angry I usually stay there. I enjoy my anger, it's the only hobby I have.
A dozen cruel remarks danced through my head, and I kept my mouth closed. I was afraid of what would fall out if I opened it. I walked forward, closing the remaining distance between us. I got to see something else in his eyes besides anger--panic. He didn't want me this close. Great.
I kept moving forward, and Richard actually moved back a step, then he seemed to realize what he'd done. When I took another step towards him, he stood his ground. I walked until the full skirt of my dress brushed his legs; the skirt swirled out and covered the toes of his polished shoes. I was close enough that it would have been more natural to touch each other than to simply stand there, as we did.
I looked up the length of his body and met his eyes with the knowledge in my eyes that I knew what was under that conservative suit, every inch of it.
Richard wasn't looking at my face when I looked up; he was staring at my decolletage. I took a deep breath, making the mounds of my br**sts rise and fall as if a hand were pushing them from underneath.
He looked up from my chest, and met my eyes. The rage in his face was a nearly pure thing. An anger without purpose, without form. It was like one of those huge wildfires, that begins by eating the trees. Then somewhere along the way the fire takes on a life of its own, almost as if it doesn't need fuel anymore, it doesn't need anything to exist. It burns and grows and destroys, not because it needs fuel but because that's what it does, what it is.
I faced Richard's rage with my own. His was new and fresh, it hadn't had time to burn its way down to his soul, to hollow out a space that held nothing but the anger. Mine was old, almost as old as I could remember. If Richard wanted to fight, we could fight. If he wanted to f**k, we could f**k. At that moment either one would have been almost equally damaging. To both of us.
His beast rose to his anger like a dog to its owner's voice. Any strong emotion could bring on the change, and this was about as strong as emotions got for Richard.
The energy of his beast flared like heat off a road on a summer's day, a visible wave of power. It danced along the bare skin of my body. Once upon a time he'd brought me using nothing but his beast thrusting through my body. But tonight, we'd do other things. I doubted they'd be as fun.
Musette glided close to us in her blood-spattered white dress. Her eyes were blue again. She wove her hands through the energy of Richard's beast, playing between the two of us, not touching, literally playing with the energy. "Oh, you would be very good to eat, tres bon, tres tres bon." She laughed, and it was the kind of laugh that would make you look twice in a bar, a laugh made to get attention. The sound didn't go with the blood drying like a mask on her face.