The ardeur fed. Fed on the strength of his body, the heat of his skin, and the spill of his seed, which spilled hotter inside me than anything I'd ever felt from a man.
A thought cut through my mind, He isn't a man. The words weren't angry, but the emotion that came with them felt like it would burn a hole through my skin. Rage, such rage, and I knew who it was before the door opened.
Richard strode through the door, and his energy flung across the room like hot sparks from a fire. It hurt where it touched my skin, like small biting insects. What do you say when you find your ex-fiancée f**king a leopardman? Richard knew just what to say. "The last time I saw anything this sick was in one of Raina's p**n o movies."
Jason rolled off the bed and faced him. I think he was trying to give Nathaniel time to stand up without me attached to him. Or maybe he was trying to give me time. Whatever his motive, he stood between me and his Ulfric, and that wasn't the wisest thing he'd ever done. Brave, even gallant, but not wise.
Richard's power filled the room like scalding water. Nathaniel rolled off the bed, and I wondered if the air was as heavy and hard for him to breathe as it was for me. The thought was enough. I knew that he felt Richard's power like something you had to fight to walk through, like Richard's power was some sort of storm, a blizzard, or a sandstorm. Something that would blind you and take your life, unless you found shelter.
My shelter was crouching between the bed and the door. The wolfman was tall and broad and dangerous. Richard in his human form should have looked frail, but he didn't. He could have been a foot shorter, and with that much power rolling off of him, he would have seemed huge.
"Get out of my way, Jason. I won't ask again."
"Tell me you're not going to hurt her, or Nathaniel, and I'll move," he said it in a deep growling voice that would have given any red-blooded human pause, but Richard wasn't human.
Nathaniel was off the bed and moving toward them. Richard would hurt Jason enough to get him out of the way, but he'd hurt Nathaniel for other reasons. Reasons he might never admit out loud, but I didn't want to see it. I called Nathaniel back to me.
I had a gun under my pillow, but I didn't want to shoot Richard, and unless you're willing to shoot, a gun is just a rock made of metal. I was still trying to think of something to do that would make this less awful, when Richard backhanded Jason.
Blood flew in a little arc, sparkling in the lights, but Jason stood his ground. He didn't offer to fight back, but he didn't get out of the way, either.
I yelled, "Richard, no!"
He picked Jason up like he was a dumbbell. Clean, jerk, Richard's arms bulged with effort as he lifted the werewolf over his head and held him there for a heartbeat.
We had one of those frozen moments, where everything slows down and you know bad stuff is about to happen, and you can't stop it. You can make choices and change what gets damaged, but you can't save it all. I was drowning in Richard's rage, his power boiling like a sea. I'd touched his rage before, his beast, and this wasn't it, not exactly. I had a second to realize that his rage tasted like an old friend. It was my rage, or tasted more like mine. I only had time for my aha moment, then he threw Jason, not across the room, but at the bed. Maybe he meant to hit me, but I rolled off the bed, and when Jason landed hard enough in the middle of it to collapse the frame, no one was on the bed but him.
I was on the far side of the broken bed, and Nathaniel was with me. He'd put himself a little in front of me. He hadn't pushed me behind him like I was a damsel in distress, but it was close. I was his Nimir-Ra, and supposedly his dominant. Shouldn't I be in front?
Jason lay on the collapsed bed, stunned. He'd been thrown from less than eight feet onto a bed, and he was breathless, frozen while he recovered. I didn't have the recovery power that Jason and Nathaniel had. Maybe me being in front wasn't bright, but shit. I didn't know what to do. Like so often with Richard, I didn't know what to do.
"Why don't you all get back on the bed? I'm sure it's a hell of a show. Raina and Gabriel would have loved it." Since I'd had to kill both of them so they wouldn't star me in a rape/snuff film, it was a truly vicious cut. But the time when that kind of shit from Richard could make me angry was passed. I was afraid to add my anger to his.
His power was everywhere, as if the very air stung and burned. But it wasn't just his rage I could feel. Disgust, horror, and under that the thing that fueled the rage... envy. Why envy? And he was too wide open, he was hardly shielding at all. I got my answer.
It was as if someone threw a puzzle into the air, and I saw pieces. Clair and Richard in bed. Richard doing his usual vigorous job of it. Clair shifting in the middle of it. Her claws cutting up his back and shoulders. Clair in human form, screaming.
Richard shoved his anger at me, and I stumbled as if he'd actually pushed me. "Stay out of my head."
"Then stop projecting so hard that I can't help but hear it."
He screamed, a full-throated cry of rage. It echoed in the big room, and I heard running out in the hallway. I knew who this was, too, or at least what.
Three people spilled into the room. One woman, two men, all with guns. They pointed them at Richard. Claudia, who was almost as tall as Dolph, and had broader, more muscular shoulders than most of the men in my life, did quick eye flicks around the room, taking in everything. Her tight ponytail flicked as she moved, because it was high on her head. A girl ponytail to offset the lack of makeup and those amazing arms. I didn't recognize the men with her, except that they held guns like they knew how, but I'd come to expect nothing less than professionalism from Raphael's people. The wererats didn't recruit amateurs.
"What is happening here, Anita?" Claudia asked. Her voice was even, just a little tight, as if she were gearing up to do her job, and she'd have less qualms than I would about that job.
"A difference of opinion," I said.
She laughed, not like it was funny. "A difference of opinion, well, hell."
"This is not Rodere business," Richard said, "it concerns the pack and the pard, not the rats."
Claudia's gaze went around the room again, took in the bleeding werewolf and the collapsed bed, my hand on Nathaniel's arm to keep him with me and away from Richard. She came back to Richard and smiled, again not like it made her happy. "This doesn't smell like pack or pard business, it smells personal."
"That's not your call," he said, and his voice was lower, not growling, but lower.
She smiled again, and this time it was just a baring of teeth. "It is when we we're being paid to guard the Circus and everyone in it. You've already bloodied one of the people in our care, Ulfric, we really can't let you harm anyone else."
"He defied me. No one gets to defy the king. Raphael would agree with that." He'd turned to face her, and I realized that he was one of the men in my life that didn't look frail next to Claudia.
"What our king would agree with and what he wouldn't is not in question." She sighed and lowered the gun to point at the floor. The two men followed her lead.
Richard turned back to stare at the bed and the rest of us. He even took a step toward the bed.
"No, Ulfric, you don't just go back to abusing them. We may not be able to shoot you without political problems, but we also will not stand by and let you abuse those we have contracted to protect."
He looked at her, and all that burning power seemed to draw away from the rest of the room, to concentrate like some great weapon. I wasn't close enough to feel it, but I was betting that all that power was now focused on Claudia.
She shook her head, like she'd been slapped. The two men with her moved back from Richard, as if they wanted more room to maneuver if things went wrong.
Claudia answered him, her voice warm with the beginnings of her own anger. "No one disputes your power, Ulfric, it is great. It is your self-control that I question."
Richard was mad, so mad, and he was looking for a fight. I'd rather it not be me, but I didn't think things would escalate as far with us as it would with the wererats. Someone could get seriously injured, or worse. Richard being in a pissy mood wasn't worth someone dying over. I know, I know, it probably wouldn't go that far, but the wererats were usually ex-mercenaries, or ex-military. They fought for keeps when they fought. Richard wasn't either of those things. He got mad, but he didn't really like going for the kill. It could all go so badly, so fast.