That one thought wasn't my thought, not exactly. Jean-Claude wasn't awake yet, I'd have felt it, but the thought was more his than mine. I remembered last night at the club, and how we'd been joined tighter, closer, than ever before. I'd done things last night that hadn't been possible before. I'd reached new levels of power both with Jean-Claude and with my own abilities. I'd also had sex with a vampire I'd known less than two weeks, and only Requiem's gentlemanly ways had kept it to one. That wasn't like me, and standing this close to Richard's pain, I was thinking about the power and not the cost to him. That wasn't like me either. But they were both very like Jean-Claude.
"What's wrong?" Richard asked. "You've thought of something."
"Just wondering what other parts of Jean-Claude I'm carrying around inside myself."
"You told me, the ardeur, the blood lust."
I shook my head. "I've never been very practical with relationships, or sex, and lately, like the last twenty-four hours, or so, I have been. At least a lot more practical than I've ever been before."
"Is it true that you had sex with two of the new British vampires at Guilty Pleasures last night?"
"My, my, the rumor mill does grind fast."
He relaxed, some tension going out of him. "Then it was just a rumor."
I sighed, and was getting tired of doing that, but it seemed like Richard just brought it out in me. "Half true."
"Which half?" he asked.
I didn't like the look on his face. It wasn't angry exactly, which should have been an improvement, but it wasn't neutral either. "One vampire, not two." I shook my head. "But you know what? I don't think I owe you an explanation, Richard. I don't keep track of the swath you're cutting through your own pack, and Verne's pack when you're in Tennessee."
He was looking at me, studying my face, as if he was trying to figure out what I was hiding. "If you weren't ashamed of it, then you'd just tell me."
"Richard, you aren't my dad, or my boyfriend. I don't owe you an explanation about who I do, or don't, sleep with."
"You slept with Nathaniel for four months before you had sex with him. What changed? Why these two vampires, why now? I heard it was a hell of a show last night, what the hell happened?"
"Are you asking from some macho possessiveness?"
"No, as the third of your triumvirate. Or should I say, one of your triumvirates?"
As the third of our triumvirate he had a right to know how close we'd come to losing control of Primo and some other choice bits. He had helped me last night, even if it had gone wrong, he'd tried. He'd really tried.
I sat down on the edge of the bed, and he sat on the floor with his knees drawn up to his chest, while I gave him a thumbnail sketch of the near disaster and an edited version of what I'd done to help Jean-Claude feed. I didn't leave much out, I just didn't elaborate.
"I can't believe you f**ked Byron. I didn't even think he liked girls."
"He took one for the team," I said, and tried to keep the irony in my voice to a minimum.
He actually blushed. "I didn't mean it that way. I meant, if I was shopping for men for you among the new vampires, he wouldn't have been high on my list."
"Truthfully, he's not high on mine. I mean he's a nice enough guy, but as a friend, not as more."
"He was the person that was there, Richard. If I accidentally sucked someone's soul out through their mouth, Jean-Claude thought I'd be less cut up if it was Byron and not Nathaniel."
"Is Primo like some kind of Trojan horse?" he asked, and him asking that made me think better of him, lots better. It was a very good question.
"You mean did the Dragon let Jean-Claude have Primo so she could try and take over here?"
"Or just cause enough destruction that Jean-Claude got up on charges. Or his business was ruined, something. From what Jean-Claude's been hearing from Europe, the council isn't too happy with him."
It must have shown on my face, because Richard said, out loud, "I have been paying attention Anita."
"I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, I didn't think you had."
"I admit I wasn't before, maybe like a month before, but I am now. I told you, I've decided to live and not die by inches. That means I've got to pay attention to business, and I may not like it. I may hate it, but being part of this triumvirate is business."
"I don't know about Primo. He might be, as you so aptly put it, a Trojan horse. I left one of the wererats on guard outside his coffin. I gave orders that if Primo breaks out, he's to be killed. No third chances, because he's already on his second."
"Why would Jean-Claude bring in something that dangerous?"
"I saw Primo fight, and I saw him heal more damage than any vampire I've ever seen heal. It was impressive. We've got a lot of powerful vamps, but most of them are Belle's line, and that runs high to beauty, seduction, which is great for the clubs. I mean we have some really choice people to strip and to dance with the tourists at Danse Macabre, but if we had a war, a real war, then we have almost no soldiers."
"You have the wolves," he said, "and through two treaties, the wererats."
"Yeah, but it's unusual to have such close ties with other groups. Vamps scouting us for takeover won't count beyond the wolves. It won't occur to most of them that a treaty with an animal that isn't the master's to call will come through when the going gets tough."
"So you approve of Primo being here?"
"No, definitely not, not after last night. I think we should shoot his ass, but I understand why Jean-Claude took the chance. We need some vamps that can fight, not just look pretty." As if on cue, the door opened, and it was my favorite pretty vampire.
We both turned to look at the door, though my turn was less turny than Richard's. Jean-Claude was in the doorway wearing the black robe I was so fond of. The one that was edged with real black fur at the lapels, and framed his pale chest so nicely. His long black curls had been combed out, so that he looked fresh and lovely. I still needed a shower. Oh, well.
"I didn't feel you wake. I always feel you wake."
"You are both shielding very, very hard," he said, as he strode into the room. His bare feet were very pale against the dark carpet. "I heard your last comment, ma petite, should I take it as an insult?"
"Sorry, but we need soldiers not seducers. We've got plenty of those."
He gave that wonderful Gallic shrug that meant everything and nothing. It was a graceful movement. Sometimes I wondered if shrug was the right word. If what Americans do is a shrug, whatever Jean-Claude did wasn't the same.
"I told your Nathaniel to go and feed his new and surprising form. He will be even more popular when the ladies see this new shape of his." He was being very pleasant, very casual. His face held a smile, and his movements were graceful and a little flamboyant. He was hiding something. I'd learned long ago that this wasn't the real Jean-Claude. This was one of his many faces that he used when reality would be too harsh, or too shocking, or too something.
"What's up, Jean-Claude?"
"Whatever do you mean, ma petite?" he asked, and came to sit down on part of the bed near me. Part that I'd removed the sheets from, so we were sitting on the relatively clean mattress. The bed bobbed unevenly as he settled on it. He looked at Richard, as the bed moved oddly. "I think you are going to owe my pomme de sang a bed frame, Richard."
Richard actually had the grace to look embarrassed. "I lost my temper, I am sorry for that. I'll replace the frame."
"Good," he crossed his legs, one a little higher than it needed to be, so he could lace his hands around the knee, and expose a line of pale leg. Was he flirting. No, that wasn't it.
It wasn't me who said the next part, but it was like my thoughts came out Richard's mouth--scary. "Cut the act, Jean-Claude, just tell us what's happened now?"
The face he gave us was way too innocent. "Whatever do you mean, mon ami?"
Richard and I exchanged glances that said worlds. Richard spoke for us. "No games, Jean-Claude, remember."
"You are beginning to sound painfully like ma petite."
"Thank you, I'll take that as a compliment."
That earned him a smile and a nod from me.
Richard smiled at me, and it was the first real smile I'd seen on him since he stepped into the room. It was good to see it, and I found that I had one of my own to give back. There, we were all being friendly.