Byron pulled gently on my shoulder. "We need to bind that wound, Anita. Let's go backstage."
"He's right," Nathaniel said, and he was closer now. Close enough that I could see that there was some blood spattered on his lavender shirt. He must have been closer to Primo than I remembered. But I wasn't thinking well. It was as if I hadn't been quite myself since I got out here. What was wrong with me?
I nodded. "Okay, okay, yeah."
I let Byron and Nathaniel lead me away, but my glance stayed turned to the room. The brunette from the alleyway was running her hand up Primo's skin, and that skin was clean and smooth, no blood, no signs of the struggle. She ran her hands over his skin, but his glance was for me. His eyes held a mute appeal for help, and I didn't understand why.
Jean-Claude touched the big man's bare back, and Primo's face turned back to the woman. There was no confusion on his face now. There was nothing but lust, and in that moment I understood. Jean-Claude was controlling Primo. He was manipulating the vampire more than he had ever manipulated the audience. They'd come for a little bit of lascivious fun. Primo had come to be Master of the City, but instead, he was just another act at Guilty Pleasures. He kissed the brunette like he'd breathe her in, as if to kiss her were life itself. When he let her go and one of the security guards eased her shaking body into her seat, money sprang up in hands throughout the room. Welcome to show business, Primo, I thought.
The door closed, and like magic it was quiet. The backstage area was soundproofed, but it was more than that today. It was as if with the closing of that door I could think again, really think. I knew that proximity to Jean-Claude could make things worse, usually proximity meant touching. Tonight, in the same room was too close.
I shook my head. "What the hell is happening?"
"We have a first aid kit in the dressing rooms," Byron said. He tried to lead me toward one of the doors on the right.
I took my arm out of his grip and looked at Nathaniel. "Did I hear Jean-Claude tell you not to touch me?"
He nodded. "He's not sure what will happen right now." His face was very solemn, serious, closed. He was being careful around me again, and I didn't know why.
"Have I missed something tonight?"
"You're dripping blood," Byron said, and he motioned at my arm.
Blood was trickling down my hand to drop, drop onto the white floor. The hallway was so white and so empty that the spot of crimson seemed loud, as if color were sound. I shook my head again. "Something's wrong."
"You've lost more blood than you realize," Byron said.
"Anita," Nathaniel said, and it seemed like it took longer than it should have for me to turn and look at him. "Anita, come into the dressing rooms. We'll take care of you."
I nodded and raised my arm up to about chest high. It would help slow the blood loss. The sleeve of my jacket was a bloody mess, and I hadn't noticed until now. Something was terribly wrong, and I didn't know what it was. I knew that making a new triumvirate with Damian and Nathaniel was probably the cause, but that only told me why it was happening, not what was happening. Why didn't matter very much to me right that moment; what was happening, that mattered a great deal.
Byron touched my arm, only enough to guide me through the door that Nathaniel opened for us. As I walked past Nathaniel, I felt something open between us, as if there were a door in the middle of our bodies. A door that wanted to close around us, to press us tight together.
Byron literally put his body in front of mine and kept me from touching Nathaniel. I growled at him, and Nathaniel echoed me at his back. "Ease down, kitty-cats, I am only doing what the Master of the City ordered me to do." His eyes were a little wide, and I got a whiff not of fear but something close to it. "Do you remember what Jean-Claude's kiss felt like out there?" He grabbed my hurt wrist and ground his fingers into it.
"That hurts," I said, and I turned on him, angry, ready to be angry.
"But you can think now, can't you?"
That made me take a step back into the dressing rooms beyond. Byron followed, a hand still on my wrist, but loosely now, not to hurt, but more to guide.
"What's happening to us?" I asked.
"It looks like you've all hit a new power plateau," Byron said, as he led me between the little lighted tables scattered with makeup and bits of costume.
"Which means what?" I asked.
He stopped in front of a big gray metal cabinet that was at the far end of the room. "Which means, answer my question. Do you remember what the kiss felt like in the other room?" He opened the cabinet, and it seemed to be full of cleaning supplies and extra bits of things that people might need. On the top shelf, so he had to stand on tiptoe, was a first aid kit, a big one.
"It was like he drank my soul," and saying it out loud was too poetic for me. I blushed and tried again. "I thought he'd fed the ardeur during sex with me, but if that kiss was feeding the same thing, he's been holding back."
Byron tried to find enough clean space on the nearby tables to open the medicine chest, but gave up and asked Nathaniel to hold it, while he rummaged through it. "He's been holding back, luv, trust me on that."
"How do you know?" I asked.
He gave me a very flat stare out of his big gray eyes. "Jean-Claude liked London once, he liked it a very great deal, and I liked that he liked it." There was something almost unfriendly in the way he finished that sentence.
"Why do I feel like apologizing?" I asked.
"Just hold your arm up higher," he said. He had his hands full of things, but still wasn't satisfied. "Nothing to apologize for, duckie. Except for Asher, Jean-Claude prefers his meat of the gentler persuasion, always did. Ah, here it is." He held up an unopened package of gauze pads. He smiled at me, and the smile was so harmless, so not matching the situation. "Now, let Uncle Byron see to the big, bad boo-boo."
I gave him a look that wasn't entirely friendly. "I'm bleeding, not brain damaged, can the baby talk."
He shrugged. "Whatever you say, lover."
I started to correct him, but Byron used pet names, mostly the same pet names, for everybody. If I took it too personally, it would be impossible to have a conversation with him. I was tired tonight. I let it go.
"Why doesn't he want me to touch Nathaniel?"
Byron looked at me like I was being slow. "Because, luv, if Jean-Claude's kiss is suddenly more, then maybe yours will be, too. The servant rises in power with his master." He looked at everything in his hands, then shook his head, looked impatient and dumped it all back into the box. "Hand me things when I ask for them," he said to Nathaniel.
Nathaniel nodded, but he was looking at me. I found myself staring into those lavender eyes.
Byron snapped his fingers in the air between our faces. It made us both jump. "The two of you are so not touching right now. Dangerous is what it would be. Now take off your jacket."
I did what he asked, and it hurt to get the sleeve off, but it wasn't until I saw my wrist that I gasped, and Nathaniel said, "Oh, shit."
Most vampire bites are neat, almost dainty things. This wasn't. It was as if, even once his fangs sank home he'd used his other teeth to bite down, so that it looked more like an animal bite. A big, angry animal bite. Blood was seeping out of the two deepest fang marks, seeping in a nice steady line. The moment I saw it, I was dizzy, and it hurt like hell. Why does it always hurt so much more when you see the blood?
"You are lucky you're still standing," Byron said. He hooked a chair with one na**d foot, and said, "Sit."
I sat. Because truthfully, I was a little shaken. It was a bad enough wound that I should have noticed it sooner. Really noticed it. A fraction of an inch better, or worse, or just deeper, and I could have bled nearly to death before I noticed it.
"Why didn't I notice sooner?"
"I've seen bespelled humans bleed to death from tiny wounds, a smile on their face all the way to the end, duckie." He ripped open the sterile gauze pads. "Put this on it, and press hard. You've lost enough blood for one night, let's see if we can save the rest." When he was serious, the nicknames vanished. He'd only been in town a few weeks, and already I knew that when the duckies, luvs, and crumpets disappeared, things were bad.
"What can I do to help?" Nathaniel asked.