I drew back from his mouth, tried to breathe, tried to think. His hand came up to cup the back of my head, to press my mouth back to his, so that I drowned in his kiss. Drowned in the pulse and beat of his body. Drowned on the rhythms and tide of his desire. The ardeur allowed, sometimes, a glimpse into another heart, or at least their libido. I'd learned to control that part, but tonight it was as if my fragile control had been ripped away, and I stood pressed into the curves and firmness of Nathaniel's body with nothing to protect me from him. Always before he'd been safe. He'd never pushed an advantage, never gone over a line that I drew, not by word or deed; now suddenly, he was ignoring all my signals, all my silent walls. No, not ignoring them, smashing through them. Smashing them down with his hands on my body, his mouth on mine, his body pushing against mine. I could not fight the ardeur and Nathaniel, not at the same time.
I saw what he wanted. I felt it. Felt his frustration. Months of being good. Of behaving himself, of not pushing his advantage. I felt all those months of good behavior shatter around us and leave us stripped and suffocating in a desire that seemed to fill the world. Until that moment I hadn't understood how very good he'd been. I hadn't understood what I'd been turning down. I hadn't understood what he was offering. I hadn't understood... anything.
I pulled back from him, put a hand on his chest to keep him from closing that distance again.
"Please, Anita, please, please," his voice was low and urgent, but it was as if he couldn't bring himself to put it into words. But the ardeur didn't need words. I suddenly felt his body again, even though we stood feet apart. He was so hard and firm and aching. Aching, because I'd denied him release. Denied him release for months. I'd never had full-blown sex with Nathaniel, because I could feed without it. It had never occurred to me what that might mean for him. But now I could feel his body, heavy, aching with a passion that had been building for months. When last I'd touched Nathaniel's needs this completely, he'd simply wanted to belong to me. That was still there but there was a demand in him, a near screaming need. A need that I'd neglected. Hell, a need that I'd pretended didn't exist. Now, suddenly, Nathaniel wasn't letting me ignore that need anymore.
I had a moment of clear thinking, because I felt guilty. Guilty that I'd left him wanting for so long, while I had my own needs met. I'd thought that having real sex with him would be using him; now suddenly that one glimpse into his heart let me understand that what I'd done to him had used him more surely than intercourse. I'd used Nathaniel like he was some kind of sex toy, something to bring me pleasure and be cleaned up and put back in a drawer. I was suddenly ashamed, ashamed that I'd treated him like an object, when that wasn't how he wanted to be treated.
The guilt hit me like a cold shower, the proverbial slap in the face, and I used it to pack the ardeur away, for another hour or two, at least.
It was as if Nathaniel felt the heat spill away from me. He gave me those wide lavender eyes, huge, and glittering, glittering with unshed tears. He let his hands drop from my arms, and since I'd already dropped my hands away, we stood on the dance floor with distance between us. A distance that neither of us tried to close.
The first shining tear trailed down his cheek.
I reached out to him, and said, "Nathaniel."
He shook his head and backed away a step, another, then he turned and ran. Jason and Micah tried to catch him as he rushed past them, but he avoided their hands with a graceful gesture of his upper body that left them with nothing but air. He ran out the door, and they both turned to follow. But it wasn't either of them who had to chase him down. It was me. I was the one who owed him an apology. The trouble was, I wasn't exactly clear on what I would be apologizing for. For using him, or for not using him enough.
The first person I saw when I hit the parking lot wasn't any of the men, it was Ronnie. Veronica Simms, private detective, one time my best friend, was standing off to one side from the door. She was hugging herself so hard, it looked painful. She's 5'8", a lot of leg, and she'd added high heels and a short red dress to show off the legs. She'd once told me if she had my chest she'd never wear another high neck shirt in her life. She'd been kidding, but when she dressed up, she showed off all that nice long stretch of leg. Her blond hair was cut at shoulder length, but she'd curled the edges under tonight so the hair bobbed above the spaghetti straps on her nearly bare shoulders. It was bobbing a lot, because she was talking low and angry to someone I couldn't see clearly.
I took another step into the parking lot, and the shadows cleared, and I saw Louis Fane. Louie taught biology at Washington University. He had his doctorate and was a wererat. The university knew about the doctorate but not about what he did on the full moons. He was an inch or two shorter than Ronnie, built compact, but strong. His shoulders filled out the suit he was wearing nicely. He'd cut his dark hair short and neat since last I'd seen him. His dark eyes were almost black, and his clean-cut face was as angry as I'd ever seen it.
I couldn't hear what they were saying, only the tone, and the tone was pissed. I realized I'd been staring, and it was none of my business. Even if Ronnie and I had still been working out together three times a week, which we weren't, it still wouldn't have been any of my business. Ronnie had had problems with me dating a vampire, Jean-Claude in particular, but her main objection seemed to be the vampire part. At a time when I'd needed girl advice and a little sympathy, she'd offered only her own outrage, and anger.
We'd started seeing each other less and less over the last few months, until it had gotten to the point where we hadn't talked in a couple of months. I'd known she and Louie were still dating, because he and I had mutual friends. I wondered what the fight was about, but it wasn't my fight. My fight was waiting out there in the parking lot, leaning against the side of my Jeep. All three of them were leaning against the Jeep. It was like a lineup, or an ambush.
I hesitated in the middle of the asphalt, debating on whether to go back and offer to referee Ronnie and Louie's fight. It wasn't kindness that made me want to go back; it was cowardice. I'd have much rather gotten dragged into someone else's fight than face what was waiting for me. Other people's emotional pain, no matter how painful, is so much less painful than your own.
But Ronnie wouldn't thank me for interfering, and it really wasn't my business. Maybe I'd call her tomorrow and see if she'd talk, see if there was still enough friendship left to save. I missed her.
I stood there in the darkened parking lot, caught between the fight behind me and the fight waiting for me. Strangely, I didn't want to fight with anyone. I was suddenly tired, so terribly tired, and it had nothing to do with the late hour, or a long day.
I walked to the waiting men, and no one smiled at me, but then I didn't smile at them either. I guess it wasn't a smiling kind of conversation.
"Nathaniel says you didn't want to dance with him," Micah said.
"Not true," I said. "I danced, twice. What I didn't want to do was play kissy-face in front of the cops."
Micah looked at Nathaniel. Nathaniel looked at the ground. "You kissed me earlier in front of Detective Arnet. Why was this different?"
"I kissed you to give Jessica the clue to stop hitting on you, because you wanted me to save you from her."
He raised his eyes, and they were like two pretty wounds, so pain-filled. "So, you only kissed me to save me, not because you wanted to?"
Oh, hell. Out loud I tried again, though the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach told me that I was going to lose this argument. Lately, around Nathaniel, I always felt like I was doing something wrong, or at least not right. "That isn't what I meant," I said.
"It's what you said." This from Micah.
"Don't you start," I said, and I heard the anger in my voice before I could stop it. The anger had been there already, I just hadn't been aware of it. I was angry a lot, especially when I wasn't comfortable. I liked anger better than embarrassment. Marianne, who was helping me learn to control the ever growing list of psychic powers, said that I used anger to shield myself from any unwanted emotion. She was right, I accepted that she was right, but she and I hadn't come up with an alternative solution, yet. What's a girl to do if she can't get angry, and she can't run away from the problem? Hell if I know. Marianne had encouraged me to be honest, emotionally honest with myself and those closest to me. Emotional honesty. It sounds so harmless, so wholesome; it's neither.