He was close enough to kiss, his face lower than mine, because of his braid holding him just a little to one side. "The animal is very practical," he whispered. "It's why so few people use their animal form when they commit murder. I don't mean accidental kills, because they don't have the control, but deliberate murder."
I leaned over him. "Example."
"Say, your uncle will leave you a fortune but he needs to be dead so you can inherit it. Unless your beast is hungry, it won't kill your uncle for money, because the beast doesn't understand money."
I leaned close enough to almost kiss him. "What does the beast understand?"
He spoke with his lips almost against mine. "It will kill someone you truly fear, or someone who's hurt you, especially physically. The beast understands being hit, being injured."
I almost asked if he'd hunted down the man who beat him and his brother, but I didn't. I'd seen his memories. If someone had done that to me, what would I have done? Bad things, most likely. And I didn't want to fill the car with hurt and bad memories. I'd had enough of those.
I laid a kiss on his mouth, and he pressed me back against my seat. I found that still being seat-belted, I couldn't move well. My arms were tangled in his braid so that it felt like I was being bound. I had a moment of panic, then I relaxed into it. Nathaniel would not hurt me, and it was my own fault about the hair being where it was. He hadn't wrapped me up, I'd done that.
He drew back just enough to talk, his lips brushing mine. "What about your clients?"
I drew my head back as far as I could, which wasn't far, and said, "I'm not offering to f**k you here and now."
That made me mad, though I wasn't exactly sure why. "No, I'm not." I started trying to untangle myself from his hair.
He drew back with a smile that showed for an instant in the lights. "I want to encourage you to touch me. God knows I do, but if you do too much with the ardeur not fed, and neither of us fed, then the night is over. You'll be pissed with yourself, and me, and I don't want that."
I got most of me free from his braid, except for the part that was caught on the back of the Browning. If it hadn't been a gun, I'd have jerked, but even with the safety on, I didn't trust it enough. Stupider accidents have gotten people shot. Neither Zerbrowski nor Edward would ever let me live it down. So I took a deep breath and forced myself to carefully untwine Nathaniel's hair from my gun.
Nathaniel had buckled himself back into his seat. "I would love to repeat this some time and place where we didn't have to stop."
I was still trying to get his hair off my gun. The fact that he was in his seat but his hair wasn't told you just how long his braid was. "You had your chance," I said, and I sounded mad.
"Don't be grumpy at me," he said, "I wasn't the one who pulled you into my lap."
I had the last of his hair free of my gun. I started to fling the end of his braid back at him, but stopped myself. He was right. Right about who started it. Right about how mad I would have been if the ardeur had risen before I got my work done. He was right. When people are right, you shouldn't get pissed at them. Or that was the new theory.
"Fine, I'll go through a drive-up. I'll eat a burger, you can have your salad. Will that make you happy?" I turned on the engine and started pulling out of the parking space.
"No, but it'll get us both to work tonight." He sounded sad.
I glanced at him as I maneuvered may way through the parked cars. "Don't be sad."
"I'm not sad," he said, but he sounded it.
"It's just that you reached for me. There wasn't a metaphysical emergency. The ardeur hadn't risen, yet. The beast was nowhere in sight. Blood lust wasn't anywhere, and I had to say, stop. But the ardeur will rise tonight, Anita, and ha**ng s*x with it not being fed yet is just inviting trouble." He leaned his head against the window. His shoulders were rounded, as if he'd hunched in upon himself.
"You're right about the schedule and the ardeur and needing to eat, Nathaniel. I don't know what came over me just now."
He turned to look at me, and we were in the bright halogen lights of the street, so I could see his face clearly. He looked almost in pain. "Couldn't it just have been that you wanted to touch me, is that so wrong?"
I sighed and concentrated on the road, because I had to. But also, it gave me time to think. I turned us back the way we'd started, but this time I knew we'd go through the drive-up at McDonald's. Honest.
I finally did the only thing I could think of to take that miserable look off his face. I touched his thigh, because it was the only part of him I could reach easily. He'd pulled so far away in his seat that I couldn't reach anything else without straining. I was driving, and that had to take priority over offering comfort, even when it was my fault for saying stupid things. I touched his leg, gently, tentatively. I wasn't always good at touching when sex wasn't involved. I was trying to get better at it, but the learning curve seemed to rise and fall depending on my mood, or someone else's.
He touched my hand with his fingers. I held my hand up to him, eyes still on the road. He laid his hand in mine.
"I'm sorry, Nathaniel. I'm sorry that I'm such an ass sometimes."
He squeezed my hand, and when I glanced at him, he was smiling at me. That one smile was worth a lot more than hand-holding to me. "It's alright," he said.
"I notice you don't disagree that I'm being an ass."
He laughed. "You don't like it when I lie."
I stared at him for a second, mouth open, then I went back to staring at traffic. "I can't believe you said that."
He was laughing so hard that our hands jiggled up and down on his leg. "Neither can I," he said.
But I didn't get mad. When you've been an ass to someone you care about, you should just admit it, move on, and try not to do it again.
There is almost no parking on The Landing. The streets are narrow, and most of them are cobblestoned. It's very quaint, but the streets were originally planned for horses, not cars, and it shows. There is no employee parking at Guilty Pleasures, because there isn't room. So I had to park the Jeep down a ways, and we got to walk, but Nathaniel touched my arm before I got too close to the bloodred neon sign and the front entrance. He took me down an alley that I hadn't even known was there. I mean, I knew it was there, but not where it went. I'd never really thought that there must be a performers' entrance just like for Circus of the Damned.
The alley was an alley, which meant it was narrow, cramped, not as clean as you'd like, not as well lit as you'd prefer, and made my claustrophobia complain. Not badly, but enough to let me know that any alley that I could touch both sides of was too damn narrow for comfort.
I'd meant to simply drop Nathaniel at the club and run to my next appointment, but a call on my cell phone had taken a lot of the angst out of my schedule. My second appointment for the night, now my first, had to cancel. Mary said that the lawyer had told her that he had to tend to the needs of another client unexpectedly. Translation: He needed to bail someone out. It didn't have to be that, but it probably was. I'd gotten better at translating lawyer over the years, though no better at legal jargon. Jargon is meant to be as unclear as possible, and it's good at its job.
So suddenly my first appointment of the night was at nine o'clock, and I had time to escort Nathaniel inside and talk to Jean-Claude. God knows there was enough to talk about. So that's how I came to be threading my way down an alley, following Nathaniel's broad shoulders. His shoulders almost brushed the walls. I don't think Dolph would have fit at all.
Nathaniel hesitated, and I couldn't see around him, but just his posture let me know something was wrong. Women's voices, high and excited, called, "Brandon, Brandon!"
He waved, then turned sideways so I could see past his chest. There was a handful of women near the steps leading up to a door with a bright light over it.
I leaned in to him and whispered, sort of, "Why do I think you're Brandon, and are they supposed to be here?"
He whispered back, smiling and waving at the women, who were beginning to come down the steps, as if trying to decide whether to come meet him. "My stage name, and no. Security is supposed to keep this area clear." He started to walk toward them.
I grabbed his arm. "Shouldn't we go back the way we came?"
"They probably just want an autograph or to touch me. It'll probably be okay."