I turned back, and I don't know what I would have said, because he'd sat down on the bed, but he'd done something to the top of his robe, so that it gapped, and I could see almost his entire chest framed by the black fur of the lapels. The burn scar looked very black against the white of his skin and the shimmering black of the fur. His ni**les were palest pink, and from that alone, I'd have known he hadn't fed. His hand touched his chest, as if he knew where I was looking. The hand moved down, and so did my gaze, so that I looked at the flat line of his stomach, the line of dark hair that started just below his navel, and swept down to vanish into the shadow of the robe. I had an almost irresistible urge to go over there and rip open the sash and see his body pale and perfect against the dark of the robe and the crimson sheets. I knew just how he'd look against it all, because I'd seen it before. That thought moved my gaze to Richard, because I'd never seen him against red silk. I'd never seen him by candlelight.
He rolled onto his side as I watched, propped up on one elbow, one arm slung low across his hips, as if to bring my attention to his jeans and what I knew was in them. But no, Richard wasn't that aware of his body, at least not for seduction. It was something Jean-Claude would have done, not Richard. Then I had one of those horrible thoughts. What if one of the things that Richard had gained with the tighter binding of the marks was some of Jean-Claude's skill at seduction. Oh, that just wouldn't be fair.
I closed my eyes and started for the door again. It was better if I couldn't see either of them. Jean-Claude called, "Ma petite, you are going to hit the wall."
I stopped abruptly and opened my eyes, and was inches away from the wall. The door was about two feet to my left. Great, just great.
"Ma petite, do not leave us." His voice crawled through the tiny hole I'd made in my shields for him. It crawled inside and played along my skin, made me shiver, and God help me, I turned back and looked. Stupid me.
Jean-Claude had crawled up on the bed, near the pillows. He was lying full length across the red silk, with the robe gaping open, barely covering anything. His white, white shoulder was framed at the top with scarlet silk. His long legs spilled half in the black robe and half on the scarlet of the sheets. Only the barest fringe of fur covered his hips.
Richard was still on his side. They were lying in almost identical positions, except that Richard's head was pointing away from the door, and Jean-Claude was angled toward it.
"This isn't fair," I said. "Not both of you, not at the same time."
"Whatever do you mean, ma petite?" But he looked entirely too pleased with himself to really need to ask.
"You bastard, you knew."
"I knew nothing, but one lives in hope."
I was having trouble breathing, or rather breathing nice even breaths. I was shaking my head, and the towel started coming unwound. I caught it, and stood there with it in my hands. The cloth was wet and cold. I was shivering, but it was only partly from the wet hair sliding down my neck.
"Richard, you are getting your shoes on the silk sheets. Has no one taught you that you do not wear hiking boots on silk?" He didn't even try to make it sound real, it was teasing, but it wasn't Richard he was teasing.
Richard just sat up, bunching his stomach muscles nicely, and put one foot on his jeans and began to unlace the short boots. He didn't look at me while he did it, but he knew I was watching.
I needed to leave now. I really did. I knew that, but somehow I was still standing there when Richard threw his first boot onto the floor. The sound made me jump.
He watched me while he took off the other boot, or watched me, watch him. I felt like one of those little birds that they say are fascinated with the snake's movements. So pretty, so sinuous, so dangerous. He was just taking off his shoes, damn it. It shouldn't have meant this much to me, hell, to anyone.
When both boots had been thrown to the floor, he took off his thick socks without any prompting from anyone. He lay back on the bed on his stomach with his feet na**d against the sheets. He watched me over his shoulder with that wave of hair barely curling around his eye. The look managed to be both coy and knowledgeable. Like a fallen angel, innocence and the promise of sin, all in one look. It was a very good look.
It was not a look I'd ever thought to see on Richard's face. It didn't seem very much like him. "How much of this is you, Richard, and how much of it is him?"
He lay flat on the silk and rolled over onto his back in a movement that was doglike and catlike at the same time. Or maybe I'm just prejudiced that dogs don't move with that same liquid grace when they writhe on their backs. He stretched his arms over his head, stretched his whole, long body out from toes to fingertips, stretched until his body shook with the effort, then he relaxed against the bed. He laid his hands across his stomach and smiled at me with that same mix of innocent sin.
"I'm not sure," he said in a voice that was thicker than it should have been this early in.
"Doesn't that scare you?" I asked, and my voice was breathy for a different reason now.
Richard frowned, just a little between those dark, dark brown eyes. Then he shook his head. "I'm not scared, in fact I feel calmer than I've felt in days."
I looked past him to Jean-Claude, who had laid back against the mound of pillows so that the crimson of the sheets framed his black curls perfectly.
"Oh, stop being so damned picturesque. You're messing with his mind."
"What does 'not really' mean?"
"I mean that I did not mean to do it. I am still adapting to this new power level, too, ma petite. I was worried for you earlier today. I was afraid what would happen with Nathaniel and Damian. I thought, I wish she was not so afraid of Nathaniel and what he wants from her. I swear to you that is all I thought, nothing more, but today I find that you have crossed several lines with him that you swore never to cross."
"Are you saying you made me do it?"
"Non, ma petite. I am saying I wished you to be less afraid of what you wanted, and you were. I did not realize that it could possibly have had an effect upon you, until just moments ago, when I simply thought, I wish Richard was not so afraid of what he wants, and now he is not."
"Did you hear all that, Richard? He's using vamp powers on you."
Richard gave me a lazy smile. "I feel calmer, less afraid, less conflicted. I hadn't realized how bad I was still feeling until now."
"Fine, I'm afraid enough for both of us, if you really did mess with me earlier today, then why am I about to walk out of this room?"
"I thought merely that I wished you would be less afraid of what you wanted from Nathaniel, and what Nathaniel wanted from you. I was not so specific with our Richard."
"You wondered if it worked the first time, so you tried it again, and voilà, you have your empirical evidence, because it worked twice."
"Perhaps, or perhaps it is merely coincidence. It will take us weeks, or months, to decipher what is true power and what is simply all of us coming to terms with ourselves."
I didn't like the sound of that, at all. "I can't do this."
"Why ever not?" Jean-Claude asked.
"Because, once I would have given nearly anything to have you both like this. I need to know what this means."
Richard sat up enough to prop himself on his elbows. "You said it yourself, Anita, you're already dating Jean-Claude and Asher, and living with Micah and Nathaniel. You said that the thought of a man on either side of you 'just flat does it' for you. What's one more pair?"
I glared at Jean-Claude. "Do you have like some metaphysical fist up his ass, like he's some kind of ventriloquist dummy, because that doesn't sound like him. That sounds like you."
"Don't talk to him, when you want to talk to me," Richard said. He sat up, and the sleepy smile was gone. "Does it bother me that you're with Micah and Nathaniel and Jean-Claude and Asher? Hell, yes. Does it bother you that I'm with Clair and half a dozen women in my pack?" He looked at me when he said it. I looked back. He finally said, "That was a question, Anita, can I have an answer?"
"Yeah, it bothered me to see Clair, and to meet your girlfriend for the first time, while I was nude. Yes, that was a special treat. I try to know as little about your personal life with the ladies of your pack as possible, so the rest, I didn't know about."
"I felt how much you wanted me earlier at your house, and you know how I felt about you. So let's not pretend anymore about that."