I raised my head from his back and kissed my way up his cheeks until I could lay my head one side of him, like a pillow. I caressed my hand down his thigh again, and this time I made circles behind his knees, and kept going, until my fingertips could play with his ankles.
He laughed and struggled against the bed again, like he had when I touched much more traditionally intimate places. There are so many more erotic areas on the body than the small list that most people make. I raised up from the pillow of his body, so that I could pay more attention to his ankles, drawing my nails lightly across that apparently sensitive skin. He writhed for me, his upper body coming off the bed, and his breath shaking out in something between a sigh and a laugh. I sat up so I could run my fingers across the bottoms of his feet, and he sighed, "Oh, God." I touched the front of his feet, very lightly, and he kicked his feet, as if it were almost too much. Not everyone's feet are that sensitive for foreplay, but when someone's feet are, they really are.
I gazed up the line of his body, while he lay gasping against the sheets. I'd barely started. So many choices, I bent over his ankles and licked along the round bone, tracing the skin with my tongue, in thick, wet, circles.
He made protesting noises and started to kick his feet, but I grabbed his foot with both my hands and held him against my mouth. He made a sound that was almost a scream and gazed down at me, along the length of his body. There was something in his eyes that was wild, and tender, and amazed.
I bit down on that shallow flesh, not hard, just a graze of teeth, but it rolled his eyes into his head and folded his shoulders onto the bed, as if he'd swooned.
I moved back up the bed, so that I could lay my head, not on one cheek, but across that part of his body, so that it was indeed my pillow. The feel of his cheeks spreading under the side of my face made me close my eyes, and have to relearn how to breathe for a moment. I spilled my hand down the line of his body, until I found that silken skin again. But this time I used it like a line to trace to something else. I found what I wanted, and the skin was so soft, softer than anything else I'd touched on his body. His testicles were trapped underneath his body, thick, and round, and delicate. Only part of them were trapped where I could touch them, and the combination of his body weight and the excitement had made them swell, so that the skin wasn't as loose as it would have been otherwise. I'd wanted to play with all that fragile loose skin, but it was already pressed tight around him. To pull on it now might be more pain than pleasure. No matter what Nathaniel liked in that area, I wasn't ready for it.
I slipped my body over his legs and pushed them farther apart, so that I lay between them. I laid my mouth against the inside of his thigh, but stopped before I could decide whether I was going to kiss him, lick him, or bite him. I stopped because I could see Jason over the slope of Nathaniel's thigh.
Truth was, I'd forgotten he was there. Was that a bad thing to say, or a good thing? Did it mean I was getting more comfortable with myself, or that I was falling into the pit of whoredom? Whatever, but I was suddenly frozen, gazing over Nathaniel's body into those pale, blue eyes. It was what I saw in them, that made me freeze. Lust would have been embarrassing, but logical. But that wasn't what I saw. Jason watched us with something in his face that was close to sorrow, and his eyes held a longing, a sense of loss. I didn't know what to do with that look, so I stopped, and raised my face up from Nathaniel's body.
Jason realized I saw him, and he ducked his head. When he looked back, he had his face under control. He almost pulled the joke off, when he said, "Don't stop on my account. I'm enjoying the show." His voice was fine, but his eyes, the lightness never quite reached his eyes.
"Liar," I said.
He gave me an unhappy smile. "I thought you were too busy to notice me. I should know that without the ardeur you pay better attention."
"What's wrong?" Nathaniel asked.
"I'm not sure," I said.
"Don't worry," Jason said, "I'm not pining for you, Anita, or Nathaniel for that matter. But I am pining for someone to take that much time and attention with me."
I frowned at him.
"You can have sex, and it can be good, but I'd give almost anything to have someone touch me the way you touch Nathaniel. We'll probably have sex later, and it will be great, but you won't look at me like that."
I sighed. "I think I remember us having this conversation before. You want to be consumed by love, and my goal in life is never to be consumed at all."
"Ironic, isn't it," he said, "I want just once for someone to look at me the way you look at Nathaniel, and you've been scared to death of it. You keep saying that the ardeur is a curse, but if the ardeur had never come along, you wouldn't have Nathaniel, or Micah. I'm not even a hundred percent sure you'd be double dating with Asher and Jean-Claude."
I laid my arms across Nathaniel's cheeks and rested my face on my arms and looked at Jason. I looked at him and tried to hear what he was saying. "Maybe, about Asher, I mean. Once you've crossed enough lines, one more doesn't seem that big a deal."
"Exactly," Jason said.
"So the ardeur is what, a blessing?"
"Look at what you're propped up on, and tell me it isn't? I heard you earlier, Anita. If the ardeur hadn't come to you, you'd still be stuck where you had been. You'd still be fighting what you want, and what you think you're supposed to want."
I looked at him, while I rested against Nathaniel's body. Nathaniel had propped himself up on his elbows and was looking at Jason. We both seemed utterly comfortable with him there. Was that wrong? It didn't feel wrong.
I wanted to argue, but I couldn't, well, I could, but I would have sounded silly. If the ardeur hadn't come, where would I be? I thought, I'd still be with Richard, but as soon as I thought, I knew better. Richard had used the ardeur as another excuse to run from me, but he hadn't liked any of my life. He hadn't liked the police work, the zombie raising, my comfort with the vampires and shapeshifters. Strangely, the thing he'd liked less was that I seemed willing to accept him and his beast. I'd seen too far into his head in that one moment in my own bathroom. Damian had said it best; Richard loved his shame more than he loved anything else.
So, where would I be without the ardeur? No Micah, no Nathaniel, no Asher. My life still nothing but murder cases, zombie raisings, and vampire slayings. Hell, without the ardeur would I have stayed with Jean-Claude, or would I have found another reason to run from him, too? Maybe. It sounded like something I'd do.
I looked at Jason and settled more solidly against Nathaniel's body. He sighed, and laid his head down on the bed.
"So what, the ardeur is the universe's way of getting me where I needed to go?"
"Maybe," he said, then grinned, "I can't speak for whole universe. All I know is that I envy you, and I don't envy many people."
"Are you jealous?" Nathaniel asked.
Jason looked surprised, either at the question, or at who had asked it. He finally shook his head. "Not jealous of you or Anita, like in love with you jealous, no. Jealous of what you have together, hell yes. Jealous of not having that many people in love with me, hell, yes, again." He smiled, and then grinned, and it reached his eyes this time. "Besides, I'm not Anita's type for a relationship."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"I'm not submissive enough, or dominant enough for you. I'm certainly not domestic enough. I'm also not willing to take on all the responsibilities that Micah seems to embrace so easily. You've found another person who thrives on his job and taking care of other people's crises. Not my idea of fun." He spread his hands wide. "You and Jean-Claude, well, that's something else. I know I can't compete with it."
"It's not a competition," Nathaniel said.
"You don't see it that way," Jason said, "but I'm just dominant enough, and guy enough, to see it that way."
"If any one of them saw it as a competition, it wouldn't work," I said.
"I know," Jason said. He shook his head. "I'm going into the bathroom again, and this time I'm staying there until I'm called, or until I feel the ardeur rise. You guys have fun. Sorry, if I flattened the mood."
"My mood's fine," I said.
"Mine, too," Nathaniel said.
Jason stared at us both. "No ardeur, and I've made you talk and think too hard, and you're still okay with this?"