"I don't want to fight," I said. There, that was honest.
"None of us do," Micah said.
Just hearing him be so calm helped the anger ease away. "Nathaniel pushed it on the dance floor, and the ardeur rose early."
"I felt it," Micah said.
"Me, too," Jason said.
"But you don't feel it now, do you?" Nathaniel said. His eyes were almost accusing, and his voice held it's own thin edge of anger. I wasn't sure if I'd ever heard him that close to being angry.
"Anita is getting better control over the ardeur," Micah said.
Nathaniel shook his head, hugging himself tight. It reminded me of the way that Ronnie had been holding herself. "If it had been you, she would have just come out into the parking lot and fed."
"Not willingly," I said.
"Yes, you would," he said, and his eyes held the anger his voice had held. I'd never seen those lavender eyes angry before. Not like this. It was strangely unnerving.
"I would not have sex in the parking lot of Larry and Tammy's wedding reception, if I had a choice."
That angry gaze searched my face as if trying to find something. "Why not feed here?"
"Because it's tacky. And because if Zerbrowski ever got wind of it, I would never, ever, live it down."
Jason patted his arm. "See, it isn't you she turned down, it's that she doesn't want to fool around at Larry's wedding. Just not her style."
Nathaniel glanced at Jason, then back at me. Some strange tension that I didn't quite understand seemed to flow away from him. The anger began to fade from his eyes. "I guess you're right."
"Well, if we don't want to be fooling around in the parking lot, then we need to get going," Micah said. "The ardeur doesn't like being denied. When it does come back tonight, it won't be gentle."
I sighed. He was right. That bit of metaphysical bravado on the dance floor would have all sorts of consequences later tonight. When the ardeur rose again, I would be forced to feed. There would be no stuffing it back into its box. It was almost as if, being able to stop the ardeur in its tracks, to completely turn it off once it had filled me, pissed the ardeur off. I knew it was a psychic gift and that psychic gifts don't have feelings and don't carry grudges, but sometimes, it felt like this one did.
"I'm sorry, Anita, I wasn't thinking." Nathaniel looked so discouraged that I had to hug him, a quick hug, more sisterly than anything else, and he responded to my body language and didn't try and hold me close. He let me hug him, and step away. Nathaniel was usually almost painfully attuned to my body language. It was one of the things that had allowed him to share my bed for months without violating those last few taboos.
"Let's go home," I said.
"That's my cue to part company," Jason said.
"You're welcome to bunk over if you want," I said.
He shook his head. "No, since I'm not needed to referee the fight, or for sage advice, I'll go home, too. Besides, I couldn't stand listening to the three of you get all hot and heavy and not be invited to play." He laughed and added, "Don't get mad, but having once been included, it's harder to be excluded."
I fought the blush that burned up my face, which always seemed to make the blush darker and harder.
Jason and I had had sex once. Before I realized it was possible to love someone to death with the ardeur, Nathaniel had collapsed at work and been off the feeding schedule for a few days. Micah hadn't been in the house, and the ardeur had risen early. Hours early. It had been interference from Belle Morte, the originator of Jean-Claude's bloodline, and the first, to my knowledge, possessor of the ardeur. It only ran through her line of vamps, nowhere else. The fact that I carried it had raised very interesting metaphysical questions. Belle had wanted to understand what I was, and she had also thought it would raise some hell. Belle was a good business-y vampire, but when she could take care of business and make trouble, all the better. So it hadn't been my fault, but my choices had been limited to taking Nathaniel and possibly killing him, or letting Jason take one for the team. He'd been happy to do it. Very happy. And strangely our friendship had survived it, but every once in a while I couldn't pretend it hadn't happened, and that made me uncomfortable.
"I love the fact that I can make you blush, now," he said.
He laughed, but there was something in his eyes that was more serious than laughter. "I need to tell you something, in private, before you go running off, though."
I didn't like how suddenly serious he was. I'd learned in the last few months that Jason used his teasing and laughter as a shield to hide a rather insightful intelligence that was sometimes so perceptive it was painful. I didn't like his request for privacy either. What couldn't he say in front of Micah and Nathaniel? And why?
Out loud I said, "Okay." I started off to the far side of the parking lot away from the Jeep, and farther away from Ronnie and Louie, who even a glance showed were still having a quiet screaming match.
When the shade of the trees that edged the church parking lot lay cool above us, I stopped and turned to Jason. "What's up?"
"The thing on the dance floor was sort of my fault."
"In what way, your fault?"
He actually looked embarrassed, which you didn't see much from Jason. "He wanted to know how I got to have sex with you, real sex, the very first time I helped feed the ardeur."
"Technically, it was the second," I said.
He frowned at me. "Yeah, but that was when the ardeur was brand new and we didn't have intercourse, and there were three other men in the bed."
I turned away so the dark would help hide the blush, though truthfully he could probably smell it hot on my skin. "Sorry I brought it up, you were saying?"
"He's been in your bed for what, four months?"
"Something like that," I said.
"And he's not had intercourse yet, hell, he's not had orgasm, not real orgasm with like release and everything."
I couldn't blush harder or my head would explode. "I'm listening."
"Anita, you can't keep pretending that Nathaniel isn't real."
"That's not fair."
"Maybe not, but I had no idea that you weren't at least doing him orally or by hand, or watching him do himself. Something, anything."
I just shook my head and looked at the ground. I couldn't think of anything good to say. If I hadn't just had my metaphysical peek inside Nathaniel's head, I would probably have gotten angry, or rude. But I'd seen too far into Nathaniel's pain, and I couldn't pretend anymore. Couldn't ignore it.
"I thought that by not doing the final stuff that it would make it easier for him when the ardeur gets under control and I don't need a pomme de sang anymore."
"Is that still your idea, to just dump him when you have enough control that you don't need to feed?"
"What am I supposed to do with him? Keep him like a pet, or a really big child?"
"He's not a child, and he's not a pet," Jason said, and the first hint of anger was in his voice.
"I know that, and that's the problem, Jason. If the ardeur hadn't come up I'd have been Nathaniel's Nimir-Ra, and his friend, and that would have been it. Now, suddenly he's in this category that I don't even have a name for."
"He's your pomme de sang like I'm Jean-Claude's."
"You and Jean-Claude aren't f**king, and nobody gets upset about that."
"No, because he lets me date. I have lovers if I want them."
"I've been encouraging Nathaniel to date. I want him to have girlfriends."
"And your not-so-subtly encouraging him to look at other women made him turn to me for advice."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"He doesn't want to date other people. He wants to be with you, and Micah, and the vampires. He doesn't want another woman in his life."
"I am not the woman in his life."
"Yes, you are, you just don't want to be."
I leaned against one of the narrow tree trunks. "Oh, Jason, what am I going to do?"
"Finish what you started with Nathaniel, be his lover."
I shook my head. "I don't want that."
"The hell you don't. I watch the way you react around him."
"Lust isn't enough, Jason. I don't love him."
"I'd argue that, too."