Richard had let go of my arm now. In fact he'd taken a step back from me, as if he didn't want to be that close. He acted as if I'd done something unclean. If he only knew. Or maybe the sex wouldn't bother him at all, maybe it was all about the feeding for him. My moral standards just weren't that finely cut anymore.
I sighed and turned to Jean-Claude. "Since you went along for the ride with Asher's feeding, he may be able to feed off of you through me."
Jean-Claude nodded. "Perhaps."
"If you touch me, while I touch Asher, and drop shields, we can try it. Between the two of us I think we can get him back to a place where one blood feeding should get him back to his normal glorious self."
"I am willing to try," he said.
I fought the urge to glance at Richard. "I know you are." I walked away from them both towards Asher. I wanted to feed Asher back to health, but truthfully, I'd had about enough of all the men in my life for one night.
Jean-Claude and I knelt by Asher. He had gained enough from that first small taste to manage a smile. The smile was the barest phantom of what he had been, but I was so relieved to see it that it made me smile, too.
I gripped Jean-Claude's hand in my left hand, and laid my right on Asher's cheek. The moment I touched him, he was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Nothing mattered but to touch him. Nothing mattered but to be with him. Nothing mattered but Asher. It was as if the world had narrowed down to his eyes, his body. The sun revolved around him, I just knew it.
In a dim part of my brain I realized that Asher hadn't been using vampire powers on me. That whatever I'd felt before this had been real. Because this was unreal. I'd never felt for anyone like this, because it wasn't love, or even lust, it was obsession. It was the sure knowledge that if I did not touch him I would die. Even as I thought it, I knew it wasn't true, but it felt true. God help me, it felt true.
I fought to free my left hand, something was holding it so I couldn't touch Asher with both hands. I needed to touch him with both my hands. I laid my body on top of Asher and caressed my hands down him.
His hands trapped my face between them, and in some part of me I knew they felt like old leather and sticks with things underneath them, but for the first time when dealing with vampire trickery, I didn't fight it. I let Asher's power turn what might have been horror into something erotic and beautiful.
I opened myself wide and let Asher roll through me like a stream, long dammed, flowing, flooding, filling up a land that has been too long without water. I did not ride his power, his power engulfed me, rolled me under with a weight of a thousand waves, pressed me to the bottom of the sand and held me at the bottom of the ocean. It wasn't that I didn't drown, it was that I didn't care that I drowned.
I woke, if wakingwas the term, with his body pressing me to the hard stone floor. I was staring up at a waving cloud of his hair, the lights sparkled through it like a golden veil. I ran my fingers through it, and it was soft, and alive again. The edge of his cheek was full and rough with scars again. I touched those familiar marks, and he turned to face me fully, and the sight of him caught my breath in my throat.
From the curve of his forehead, to the line of his cheek, the fullness of his lips, he was perfect once more. His eyes sat in that face like icy sapphires set among pearls and gold.
I laughed when I saw him, a joyous burst of sound. He cupped my face in his hand, and I turned to lay a kiss against his palm. The weight of his body against mine was one of the best feelings I'd ever had, because it was proof that he was back, that he was well, and that he was whole.
He half-rolled, and half-raised me to a sitting position in his lap, with his back to the wall. He turned with me held in his arms, to look across the room at Belle Morte. I didn't have to see the look on his face to know that it was not an entirely friendly one.
"Impressive, wouldn't you say?" Jean-Claude said.
"No, I would not. He can only feed on the energy of those whom he has taken blood from, and rolled their poor minds. You know as well as I do, Jean-Claude, that you can't allow Asher to roll the mind of every victim. It would be a parade of love-besotted fools following him everywhere."
I resented the love-besotted fool part, but I let it go. We were winning tonight. Never argue when you're winning.
"Be that as it may, Belle, Asher is restored to his glorious self. We have no more need of you tonight, so you, and yours, must be gone from our territory before tomorrow night."
"You would truly slay all of us?" She made it a question.
"My vengeance would be terrible."
"Non,Belle, by council law you cannot chastise another sourdre de sangas you would a vampire of your line. Your hatred would be terrible, but your vengeance would have to wait."
"Not if the head of the council agrees with my vengeance," she said. "I've touched her, Belle, she doesn't care about your vengeance. She doesn't even care about you, or me, or much of anybody," I said.
"The Mother has been asleep a very long time, Anita, when that sleep ends she may retire from the council."
I laughed, and it wasn't joyous now. "Retire! Vampires don't retire. They die, but they never retire."
It wasn't something that showed on her face, it was more a stillness to her shoulders, a movement in an arm. I don't know what made me see it. Asher's power, or something else. But I did see it, and I had a wonderful, terrible idea.
"You plan to kill her. You plan to kill the First Darkness and make yourself head of the council."
Her face was perfectly blank as she said, "Do not be absurd. No one attacks the Gentle Mother."
"Yeah, I know, and there's a very good reason for that. She'll f**king kill you, Belle. She will roll over you and destroy everything you are."
She fought, but she couldn't keep the arrogance off her face. I guess if you've been alive longer than Christ has been dead, you can't help but be arrogant.
"If you declare war on anyone now, Belle, as a sourdre de sangin my own right, neither I nor any of my people have to come when you call. You will find no aid here," Jean-Claude said.
"Aid from you, my two petite catamites?I have found other men to serve your purposes." She turned with a swish of Musette's skirts. "Come, my poppets, we will leave and shake the dirt of this provincial town from our shoes."
"A moment, my mistress." It was Valentina. She gave a very low curtsy in her stiff white and gold dress. "Bartolome and I have had our honor besmirched by Musette's trick."
"What of it, poppet?"
Valentina stayed down in the low curtsy, as if she could have held the position forever. "We beg your indulgence to remain behind and make amends to the shape-shifters."
"Non," Belle said.
Valentina raised her gaze to the woman. "They were abused as I was abused, and we have made it worse. I beg permission to remain behind and make it better."
"Bartolome," Belle said.
Bartolome came forward and dropped to one knee, head bowed. "Yes, mistress."
"Is this what you wish?"
"Non,mistress, but honor demands that we remedy this error." He looked up then, and there was something on his face of the boy he might once have been. "They have grown into men, but the scars laid on the boys that they were are deep. Valentina and I have made them deeper. This I do regret, and you know, above all others, that I do not regret much."
I expected Belle to tell them, no, to gather her people up and leave, but she didn't. She said, "Stay until honor is satisfied, then return to me." She glanced at Jean-Claude. "If you will allow them to remain that is?"
Jean-Claude nodded. "Until honor is satisfied, oui."
I didn't agree with this, but something in Belle's face, something in Jean-Claude's face, something in the tightness of Asher's body, let me know that things were happening that I probably didn't understand.
"If the wolves would be so kind as to escort our guests to their rooms to pack, then to the airport."
Richard seemed to startle awake, almost as if he, too, had been under some spell. I didn't think that was it. He was staring at me in Asher's lap, with Micah leaning against the wall beside us. Nathaniel had crawled towards us, and I raised a hand, let him lay his head and shoulders in my lap.
"We'll escort them out," he said, but his voice sounded empty. He opened his mouth as if to say more, then he turned, and his wolves moved with him. They gathered up Belle's people and began to escort them back towards the front and the main rooms.