He touched my wrists, gently, and lowered my hands away from my face. He smiled and said, "Better?"
I started to nod, then Damian grabbed my leg, and the fear roared back, and the scream ripped out of my throat. It wasn't just Moroven's power, it was Damian's fear of that power, and the fact that I couldn't shield against it.
I screamed, and Richard's mouth was suddenly on mine. He kissed me, a gentle press of lips. Fear thrilled through me, all the way to my fingertips, as if terror were an electric current. I shoved him away from me.
I waited for the anger to come rushing through me, to ride over the fear and everything else, but it didn't come. In fact the fear blossomed into panic. Panic that freezes your body, numbs your mind, makes you forget everything you've ever learned about how to make your body a weapon, and all that is left is a small screaming voice inside your head that makes you a victim. If you can't think and can't move, then you are a victim. That's why panic will get you killed.
Richard knelt in front of me, only as far away as my arms had moved him. There was nothing gentle in his face now. He looked eager, anticipatory. He was on one knee, the other leg turned so that he shielded himself from my view. The body language was modest; the look on his face was not.
He leaned in toward me and sniffed, drawing the air in deep, so that his chest rose and fell with it. His eyes closed as if he'd smelled the sweetest of flowers, his head thrown back, just a little. When he opened his eyes, they weren't brown, they were amber, dark orange wolf amber. There was a moment where seeing those eyes in the tan of his face was breathtaking, then Damian's fingers dug into my leg. A fresh wave of panic poured through me, tore a scream from my throat, and Damian echoed it. I had a confused image of bodies, hands, being held down, cloth ripping, the weight of a body pinning us to the table and...
A hand wrapped around my wrist and jerked me up and away. Damian's nails ripped through my skin as he tried to hold on. Richard tore me away from Damian's hands, his horror, his memories, and his fear.
The moment Damian couldn't touch me, the panic faded, a little. I could breathe again. The fear was still there, pulsing through me, but it was diminished some. It was like the difference between drowning in the ocean and drowning in a fish pond. Better, less frightening, but just as dead.
I looked back at Damian, and he lay on the floor, his hand outstretched, and even from a distance, I reached back for him. I could feel his need.
Richard pulled on my arm, sharp, sudden. It threw me off balance, and he used that momentary stumble to swing me in against his body, my arm behind my back with his hand still on my wrist. I should have been more interested in the pain, but it was the sensation of being suddenly pressed against his na**d body that overwhelmed me. It was not just being pressed against a man's body, even a lovely body, that unnerved me, it was as if my body remembered him. Remembered what it was like to be pressed against this flesh, these arms, and with the skin memory... it was as if the emotional scars tore open and spilled my heart out into my skin. You fight so hard, so long, to cut someone out of your heart, but it's not always your heart that betrays you.
But in among the emotional debris I felt Moroven pull back. We hadn't needed the ardeur to confuse her, all we'd needed was how Richard and I felt about each other. Just as Moroven didn't understand pure lust, she didn't understand love, no matter how broken. I don't know if the emotion frightened her, or if she simply couldn't understand it. She wasn't the only one.
We were touching, and the triumvirate was working just fine. We'd both thrown down our shields to help Jean-Claude raise the ardeur and save us, but shields protect you from so many things. What is love? What does it feel like in its rawest form? Lust, need, desire, and that aching want, as if the center of your body was carved out and hollow, and the only thing that can fill it is the person that you're touching.
I loved Richard. I couldn't hide how I felt, couldn't deny it. I was laid bare in his arms in every way. For a moment, I felt him feel the exact same way, then I felt something else... shame. He was ashamed, not that he loved me, but that part of him was angry that Moroven had fled. He'd wanted to drink my fear while he f**ked me. That was the thought that came, not in words, but in confused images. I felt that to him my terror was almost the same as the terror of the deer he'd chased down and killed. Fear, even a little fear, made everything better--food and sex.
He let me go, stepped away so we wouldn't be touching. He clanged his shields tight into place and left me standing alone. I was shaking and couldn't understand why.
Richard's face got that angry look he used to hide what he was thinking. He grabbed his pants and went for the door. "You're as horrified by it as I am," he said, and was gone.
I wanted to say he was wrong, but in a way he was right. I wasn't horrified by the fact that he liked a little fear with his sex, a little rough play, most of the shapeshifters did. I think it had something to do with them being programmed to chase animals and kill them. If they didn't get off on the fear, their human sides might come to the forefront and cripple them for the kill. Or maybe, that wasn't it. Maybe it was something else. Maybe it was that Raina and Gabriel had been attracted by latent talent. I don't know, but I wasn't horrified with what Richard had wanted. The fact that he thought of taking me while Moroven's fear rode me hadn't bothered me. It was mild compared to some of the things that my wereleopards liked. Just because I didn't participate didn't mean I was blind.
No, that wasn't the problem. I dropped to my knees and stayed there. I'd felt that he loved me, still, but I'd also felt that his hatred for everything he was, was stronger and more important than his feelings for me. I'd thought he loathed his beast, but it was more than that. He hated what he liked in the bedroom. We'd been lovers for months off and on, and I'd never known that he was a closet sadist. How tight he must have to hold his own leash for me not to have known.
A hand touched my shoulder, and I jumped. Nathaniel was staring at me with those lavender eyes. "Are you okay?"
My eyes felt hot, and my throat tight. God, I didn't want to cry. I shook my head, because I didn't trust what would come out if I opened my mouth. No sobbing, no screaming, no hysterics. I hadn't realized until moments ago that somewhere in the depths of my soul, I'd held out hope. Hope that Richard and I would work out, somehow. I thought I'd moved on--stupid. I hadn't moved on, I'd just hidden it away. I couldn't give myself completely to anyone, because I was still in love with Richard. How f**king stupid was that?
He did love me, but he loved his shame more. He hadn't run because I could accept his beast. He'd run because living with me, he couldn't pretend. He couldn't pretend to be normal. I'd never been much on pretending to be something I wasn't, and lately, I'd gotten even worse at it. Could you pretend to be someone else and truly be happy? I don't think so.
Nathaniel put his arms around me, slowly, as if he were afraid I'd stop him, but I didn't. I needed to be held right then. I needed to be held by someone who wanted me, wanted all of me, the good and the bad, the nice and the scary. Richard had been pressed na**d against my body, and even the promise of that hadn't been enough.
Micah appeared in the doorway. "Dr. Lillian is in the kitchen looking at Richard's wound." He looked from Nathaniel to Damian, then to me. "Richard looks shaken, what happened?"
I held out my hand, and he came to me without me having to say a word. I buried my face against his shoulder, and that hot, hot tightness spilled out of my eyes, and my lips. I balled my hands into his shirt and cried.
Nathaniel was at my back rubbing his hands over and over my skin, making soothing noises.
"What happened?" Micah asked again.
It was Damian who answered, and his voice let me know that he was close before his hand patted my shoulder. "Richard hates himself more than he loves anyone else." It was only in that moment that I realized that Damian and Nathaniel had still been connected to me when Richard and I had had our moment. My first thought was, He would hate knowing that they know his big dark secret. My second thought was, Who the f**k cares?
I clung to Micah, with Nathaniel at my back and Damian patting me awkwardly on the shoulder.
Gregory growled in his leopard voice, "What just happened? I thought you and Richard were going to f**k."
Micah saved me the trouble of saying anything. "Get out, Gregory, now before you say something even more stupid."