I screamed until my voice went hoarse, and still he fed, and still Byron stayed pinned inside me, thrusting into me. It was like being caught in an endless loop of pleasure, one movement feeding the others, until we finally collapsed into a quivering heap. Requiem's mouth fell away from my neck. "I can drink no more." His perfect voice was breathless, barely a whisper.
Byron collapsed on top of me like a puppet whose strings had been sliced. He lay on top of me, and I could feel his heart thudding inside his chest like a trapped thing. His breathing was ragged and sounded painful, and mine wasn't much better.
He found his voice, hoarse, and shaking. "If I wasn't dead already, I'd say I was having a heart attack."
I tried to laugh and ended up coughing.
"Oh, don't do that," Byron said, "oh, please." The coughing fit had tightened me around him again, and it jerked him up on his arms, pushed him one last time against me, which made me writhe under him.
He collapsed again, and begged, "No, more, please, Anita, no more. I never thought I'd say that from just one time, but give me a moment to catch my... breath."
"Breath," Requiem said with his face collapsed next to mine, "not breath, pulse. I knew you had the ardeur, but you should warn a vampire if you can do things like that."
I found my voice, "Like what?"
He moved his head just enough so that he could look me in the eye with his face on my shoulder. "I knew you would feed from me, but I didn't know you would bring me."
"Bring us," Byron said, "bring us again and again." He was collapsed across my chest and body so all I could see was his brown curls. "I usually try and keep track of things like that, but I gave up when we passed five. Or was it six?"
"Eight," Requiem said, "or maybe more. I think if I could have kept feeding, we wouldn't have stopped." He closed his eyes, and a faint shiver ran through him. "I'd forgotten how many different ways the ardeur could be fed. I'd forgotten how good it could feel."
"I don't have anything to compare this to," Byron said in a hoarse voice.
"You never met Belle Morte, did you?" Requiem asked.
Byron seemed to want to look at the other man when he spoke, but he gave up when raising his head was too much effort. "No, never had the pleasure."
"It was a pleasure," he said.
If I could have moved, and been sure I wouldn't fall over, I'd have told everyone to get off of me, but I couldn't move, and if I couldn't, I knew at least Byron couldn't, either. He'd been using more muscles than I had. But it felt odd to lay there with them draped around me and talk as if I wasn't there. I asked him, "Why didn't you let Belle keep you, then?"
"Have you met her?"
"In a manner of speaking, yeah."
His blue, blue eyes, looked sad, the excited exhaustion fading in the light of memories. "Then you should know the answer. No pleasure is worth her price, and besides, I don't like men, not even a little, and if you aren't at least bisexual, you can't survive at her court."
"Why?" I asked.
"When she's not f**king the men, she likes to watch the men f**king each other. I don't think there was ever a waking moment at her court when someone wasn't ha**ng s*x either with her, or for her entertainment, or the entertainment of her guests."
Byron managed to lever himself around so he could give gray eyes to the other vampire. "I like men, but you make it sound like I wouldn't have liked it, either."
"There is no pleasure without payment. No pleasure without some pain attached, and not the kind of pain you'll enjoy. First she finds what you most desire, she learns your body as no other lover can, then she begins to deny you that love. She begins to make you beg for it. She addicts you to her, if she can. Then when she has you, truly has you, she begins to pull away, so that you spend the rest of eternity gazing into the face of paradise, but you are locked outside the shining gates and can only touch glimpses of heaven."
I found that I could move my arm again. I reached around Byron's curls, and touched Requiem's face. "You didn't end up with Belle," I said.
His eyes lost their remembering look, but they didn't regain the shine of pleasure. "If Jean-Claude had not offered me a home when our old master got himself executed, Belle Morte would have had me. If any other master had offered for me, anyone less than a le sourdre de sang, then I could not have refused her. You have no idea how rare it is that Jean-Claude has gained enough power to be his own fountainhead of blood. Not more than three vampires in nearly eight hundred years have gained that kind of power. It protected all of us when our old master lost his mind and went against the council's orders. An entire court of nearly all Belle's line, when it fell apart, she tried to pick up all the pieces."
Britain was the only other country in the world where vampires were legal. They had rights, and you couldn't just kill one of them simply because they were a vampire. It was murder. But in America we'd been doing it almost four years, and the Brits were newer at it. There'd been some hitches. Hitches that the human media and powers that be didn't know about. The Master of the City of London had been very old. He'd been one of the first master vamps that Belle Morte made, oh, so long ago. Sometimes the really ancient vampires don't take well to newfangled ideas. You know, electricity, modern medicine, and the fact that they were supposed to expose themselves to public view in a very modern, rock star sort of way. London had had more of Belle's lovely vampires than any but three other groups, and that included Belle's own court. So when the vamps got legal, the vampire council wanted the Master of the City to play to the human media. He called himself Dracula, because once the real vampire Dracula was assassinated, the name was up for grabs. Only one person at a time can hold a name per country, and only one person per time can hold some of the more well-known names. Dracula wasn't really Dracula, but the news media didn't seem to understand that, and they'd enjoyed talking about how they had the real Dracula as their Master of the City. They'd only wanted him to be as politically correctly visible as Jean-Claude and a lot of the masters in this country, but the new Drac didn't take well to it. In fact, he went buggers and started slaughtering humans.
The council managed to hush most of it up. To assassinate Dracula again, and just to prove that vampires can be as superstitious as the next bunch, they declared Dracula a dead name. No other vampire was allowed to choose it, or hold it. There had been two of them, and both had broken council law and had to be assassinated. Two was enough.
Jean-Claude had offered the London vamps a home. Not all of them, but many of them. All of them that could trace their lineage to Belle Morte. Who better to be strippers and dancers than the most beautiful and seductive vampires in the world? I couldn't argue with his logic. But lying there trapped under the weight of two of those vampires, I had to wonder if part of what was happening was just too damn many of them in one place. Was there such a thing as vampire pheromones? Probably.
"You're safe now," I said, "so everybody off the animator. I need to get up."
"That I did not offer means I am no gentleman," Requiem said, and he came to his knees with more grace than I was going to manage.
Byron got to all fours, head hanging down like a tired horse. I could see down the line of his body, and he looked tired, spent. "I can't feel my legs below my knees, so I'm as far up as I'm getting for awhile. Sorry, luv."
His getting up even that far left me suddenly na**d from the waist down, or as na**d as mattered to me. I never felt dressed in just thigh-highs and boots, and still wearing the shirt complete with gun didn't matter either. My skirt was up so high that the front of me was totally exposed, and for me, that was naked. I know, I know, how middle-America, how small town. But truth is truth. If you gave me a choice of covering anything, that would be it.
I tried to pull the skirt down, but I was lying on too much of it. Requiem stood and offered me a hand, but Nathaniel was on the other side, with his hand out. There was a look I couldn't quite read on his face, and this time I fought not to read his mind. I'd had enough surprises for one evening. But I took Nathaniel's hand and not Requiem's.
Nathaniel had to take both my hands to pull me out from under Byron. When he got me standing, my knees wouldn't hold, and he had to catch me around the waist. I looked at Requiem, who had spilled his black cloak around himself. I thought he was insulted, so I said, "Nothing personal, Requiem."