He gave me a brief and rare grin. He smiled, but grinning was rare. "I am not insulted, my lady." He spread the cloak wide suddenly, so that the front of his body showed. The cloak was black, but his slacks were not. The pale gray slacks were stained on the front as if he'd not quite made it to a bathroom, but that wasn't really what the stain was. It wasn't the stain that got me, it was the fact that the stain ran from his groin down one leg of his pants nearly to his knees.
I gave him raised eyebrows.
I expected embarrassment, but didn't get it. "A task well done, m'lady, a task well done."
That made me blush, which made him laugh, that deep rolling chuckle that was all masculine. Byron joined it, and his was not as deep a sound, but had just as much maleness to it. He was finally on his knees, instead of all fours.
Nathaniel didn't join in the laughter. He was helping me pull my skirt into place. Something about his face, his silence, reached the vampires.
Requiem made a low sweeping bow that flared the cloak around him, like wings. He used the cloak, or one similar to it, on stage. "My apologies, Nathaniel, it did not occur to me to ask your favor when I entered. Jean-Claude is our master and hers, but not yours." He looked up at Nathaniel, giving him the full force of those startling blue eyes.
"Anita doesn't need my permission for anything," Nathaniel said, but his voice made the words not ring true.
I sighed. I guess I couldn't blame him. He'd spent a lot of time lately watching everybody else but him get so much more than just sleeping privileges. But I couldn't apologize in front of the vampires without explaining way too much. So I didn't try.
"You get to sleep with her every night, mate, don't begrudge us a few crumbs from your table."
He took a breath like he'd say something, but I stopped him with a hand against his lips. "It was a metaphysical emergency. Nathaniel wants to opt out of those for awhile."
He looked at me, and I felt his smile against my hand. A smile just for me, because no one else could see it. He kissed the palm of my hand and moved it away from his mouth, but some piece of unhappiness had faded from his eyes. It made me smile.
"Let's bandage that wrist."
I glanced at the wrist in question. The gauze had glued itself to the wound, and it had begun to close. Byron had put a lot of pressure on it. "And find my underwear," I said.
Byron lifted what was left of my black undies from under the tables. "I think they've had it, luver."
I sighed. Bert had been right, the skirt was too short, and it was certainly too short to wear without underwear.
"I might have something that fits you," Byron said.
"What?" I asked.
"A thong, but at least the front bits will be covered." He smiled when he said it.
I shook my head, but I took his offer. A little underwear was better than no underwear at all.
The club was dark except for a single soft spotlight in the middle of the stage. In that soft, white light Jean-Claude stood. The light hit only his shoulders and face, the rest of him was lost to darkness. It gave the illusion that his body formed from the darkness itself, to rise to the shining paleness of his face, the gleaming white of his cravat, the tiny colored spark of the sapphire winking only when he moved. His hair looked as if the darkness had been drawn out into some dark thread and formed into curls. The only color was the drowning blue of his eyes and the crimson smear of lipstick across his face. It wasn't my lipstick, or at least not most of it.
His voice floated through the darkened room. "Who will taste my kiss?" Taste, left a sweetness on my tongue, as if I'd licked a piece of candy. Kiss, gave a ghost of lips brushing my cheek. "Who will embrace me?" Embrace made me feel faintly warm, as if I'd been given a really good hug by someone I cared about.
Jean-Claude's voice had always been good, but not this good. Not this good. With my partial immunity, I probably wasn't getting all of it. I had no idea how much more the audience was getting. It took a force of will to look away from him in that shining circle of light. I made myself look out at the audience. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dark, but when I could see, nearly every face was turned to him. They gazed up at him in the dark as if he were the rising sun and they had never seen anything so bright before. Only a handful of faces weren't turned toward the stage. A few women were shaking their heads and looking confused. A little psychic talent of the right kind or with the right practice helped. Marianne had proven to me that you didn't have to be a necromancer to have some immunity to vampire mind tricks.
One of the few men was standing up, and the woman with him was tugging on his arm, trying to get him to sit back down. He was shaking his head, adamantly. No, no, he wouldn't sit in the dark and let that voice wash over him. He didn't understand that it wasn't a matter of sexual orientation. It was Jean-Claude. His power was seduction, and it had nothing and everything to do with sex.
Two of the waiters were escorting a woman up on stage. She was tall and almost anorexically thin. She'd apparently been waving more money than anybody else, because Jean-Claude preferred more curves on his women. As he'd pointed out to me, the beauties of his day in the French courts were today's size twenty. Most of the old vamps liked short women with curves. Most of us were living in so the wrong century.
The lights around the stage had been growing brighter so gradually that if you'd been gazing at the stage the entire time, you might not have noticed. The light was just barely bright enough so the audience could see more of their bodies. From the waist up, you could see his pale hands sliding over her body. Nothing déclassé, but he got more out of simply touching a woman's back, shoulder, or waist, than some men got out of touching br**sts and groin. Sometimes it's not what you touch but how you touch it.
He pressed her against the front of his body so there was no space between them, so that her thin frame seemed almost to mold itself to his body. He lifted her face up to meet his, using one pale hand to cradle her face so that he would control the kiss. His arm slid around her waist, and tightened. Tightened enough to bow her neck and make her mouth open in a surprised little O. One of the women before this one had groped him, so he'd made sure there wasn't enough space between the front of their bodies for anyone's hands to wander too far. The women seemed to take the closer frontal contact as a sign of favor. I knew it wasn't. It was a sign of control and damn near displeasure.
But when he bowed his head to her mouth and locked their lips together in a kiss, there was no displeasure. He kissed her as if he were trying to breathe her down through his mouth. He fed from her lips almost as if he were feeding from her neck. And in a way, he was, feeding at least.
He fed from their mouths in a way that the Dragon's presence in my head had told me about. Except she knew how to eat the essence of the dead and make the undead, really, truly dead. This was not that, but it was eerily similar. He was feeding the ardeur, from a kiss.
"Nikolaos would never let him feed like that," a quiet voice said from behind me.
I turned to find Buzz just behind me. I hadn't heard him, or sensed him, which meant that I'd been more caught up in the show than I'd realized.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Nikolaos knew that he was feeding off the audience without ever touching them, so she forbade him to touch any of the customers." His gaze went past me to the stage. "I think she had some clue what he could have been, and she did everything she could to make sure he didn't come into that power."
"She's been dead almost three years. You make it sound like tonight is the first time you've seen this show."
He looked at me. "It is."
I gave him wide eyes. "Nikolaos was dead, she couldn't stop him."
"But you could," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you really think three years ago you would have dated him after you saw this?"
I glanced back at the stage. I watched him kissing a strange woman as if she were his deepest love, or at least deepest lust. Would I have tolerated it three years ago? No. Would I have used it as an excuse to dump his ass? Oh, yeah.
The woman swooned in his arms. Her mouth falling away from his as she seemed to half-faint, as if the kiss alone were so intense that she couldn't stay conscious. I would have thought she was play-acting, or exaggerating, but I had to believe it, when the waiters carried her off stage and gave her back to her friends at their table.