"You say that as a statement, not a question."
"I've met her, remember?"
"You are exactly right. She loved watching prim, proper women and men, forced to spill themselves upon the floor and flop about, experiencing a pleasure greater than any they had ever felt before. It pleased her to watch the righteous brought low."
"Yeah, that sounds like her."
"But you truly felt nothing. It did not excite you to watch Graham writhe."
"Why should it?"
He smiled then, and there was relief in his eyes. "That you would ask the question makes me worry less about you."
"Worry how?" I asked.
"It has been speculation for centuries whether Belle was formed into the type of," he seemed to search for a word, "creature she was by the ardeur and her powers running to flesh and pleasure, or whether she was always as she is, and the power simply made her more."
"It's been my experience, Requiem, that people become more of who they are in extremes, both good and bad. Give a truly good person power, and they're still a good person. Give a bad person power, and they're still a bad person. The question is always about the person in between. The one that isn't evil, or good, but just ordinary. You don't always know what an ordinary person is like on the inside."
He looked at me, with an odd expression on his face. "That was a very wise thing to say."
I had to smile. "You sound surprised."
He gave an almost bow from the neck, as much as he could sitting in the seat. "My apologies, but in truth I've always thought of you as more muscle than brain. Not stupid," he added hastily, "but not wise. Intelligent perhaps, but no, not wise."
"I guess I'll just take the compliment, and leave the insult alone."
"It was not meant as an insult, Anita, far from it." There was a look on his face, a feel to him, that was anxious.
"Don't worry, I won't hold it against you. A lot of people underestimate me."
"They see the delicate beauty, but not the killer," he said.
"I'm not a delicate beauty," I said.
He gave a small frown. "You are most assuredly delicate in appearance, and you are beautiful."
I shook my head. "No, I'm not. Not beautiful, pretty, maybe, but not beautiful."
His eyes widened a little. "If you do not think yourself beautiful, then you are using a different mirror from the one in front of my eyes."
"Pretty words, but I'm surrounded by some of the most beautiful men living or dead. I may clean up well, but when comparing beauty, I don't rank that high, not in this company."
"It is true, perhaps, that your beauty is not a flashy beauty, as is Asher's, or Jean-Claude's, or even your Nathaniel's, but it is beauty nonetheless. Perhaps the more precious, for it grows not at the first sight of the eye, but a little more each time one speaks with you or watches you move so commandingly into a situation, or watches the truth in your eyes when you say that you are not beautiful, and I realize that you mean it. That you are not being humble, or playing silly games, you simply do not see yourself."
"See, that's not beauty, that's pretty with a personality that you like."
"But do you not see, Anita, that there is beauty that hits the eye like a bolt of lighting, that burns and sears and blinds. It is more disaster than pleasure. But yours, yours is a beauty that lulls one into comfort, into not protecting one's eyes from the light, then one night you realize that the moon, too, has its beauty."
I shook my head. "I have no idea who you're talking about, but it's not me."
He sighed. "You are a very hard woman to compliment."
"You know, you're not the first person to say that."
He smiled. "That does not surprise me at all."
Graham let out a long, long sigh, and sort of spilled himself back up onto the seat. It was like watching liquid fall upward. He had that same liquid grace that all the wereanimals seemed to have. He leaned his head against the headrest, but at least he was upright again. He gave me a slow, lazy blink, and his eyes were a dark, wolf amber, almost brown, but I knew the difference. I'd seen it often enough.
He smiled, and even that was lazy. "That was amazing."
"I didn't do it on purpose," I said.
"I don't care."
I frowned at him.
"Can you do it again, is all I want to know."
I frowned harder.
Some of the laziness began to seep away from his face. "Look, you give me one of the most amazing orgasmic experiences of my life, and now you're acting like the injured party. You're the one that spilled all over me."
"Not on purpose," I said.
"You keep saying that, like you're apologizing, why? Why are you apologizing?"
I looked at Requiem for help, though I didn't hold much hope. But he did help. "I believe that Anita sees it as unasked-for sexual contact. A sort of rape, if you will."
"Can't rape the willing," Graham said, and he stretched himself taller in the seat, settling more into it, and his eyes were bleeding back to human.
"I didn't know you were willing, when it happened."
He nodded. "Okay, but I'm okay with it." He looked at me. "But you don't seem okay with it at all. What's wrong now?"
"What's wrong?" I asked. "I just had a flashback so strong that if I'd still been driving, we'd have wrecked. I fed it into you by accident. I didn't mean to do it. What else am I not going to mean to do?"
"She and Jean-Claude have hit a new power plateau," Requiem said.
"Oh," Graham said, as if that made perfect sense to him, "so you don't know what all the new power can do, yet."
"No," I said.
He nodded. "Yeah, that can get scary. I'm sorry, I didn't know this was the first time you'd done something like this. I enjoyed it, you don't owe me an apology."
"But what if I grab a client next time?" I said.
"You had warning," Requiem said, "or you wouldn't have pulled off the road."
"I don't think that had anything to do with new powers."
"Then why did you nearly run us up the back of three different cars?" Graham asked.
I opened my mouth, closed it, and didn't know what to say. "I think I crossed my last few lines tonight."
"What does that mean?" Graham asked.
"I broke some personal rules tonight, that's all."
"Rules that you thought would never be broken," Requiem said softly.
I looked at him, surprised. "You say that like you know."
"A person likes to think of himself in a certain way, and when something happens that makes that no longer possible, you mourn the old self. The person you thought you were."
I shook my head. "I am still the person I thought I was, damn it."
He gave a shrug that reminded me of that graceful lift of shoulders that Jean-Claude always did. "As you like, m'lady."
I turned around in my seat and put my forehead against the steering wheel. I just wanted this night over with. I didn't want to have to explain myself to anyone, let alone one of the men that I'd had sex with by accident tonight. The trouble was, I wasn't sure that I believed what I'd just said. It wasn't just the sex with Byron and Requiem, it was that tonight, for the first time, I'd let Jean-Claude into my head as far as he could go. For the first time we'd touched what might be possible if only I'd get out of our way. Until tonight, I hadn't realized how much I'd crippled us. As much in my own way as Richard. I'd thought that sleeping with Jean-Claude and doing small things with him was being his human servant. I'd learned differently less than an hour ago, and that knowledge was eating me up. It wasn't that I had crippled us as a triumvirate of power. No, I'd guessed that before, just not the amount of crippling. I thought my limits and boundaries had hobbled us, not cut both our legs off at the knees. What I hadn't expected, what I hadn't wanted to know, was how good it felt to let Jean-Claude roll me. It had been a-fucking-mazing. Peaceful and intoxicating all at the same time. I'd never really known what I was doing without, because I had been so careful not to let him show me. And he had respected my wishes.
I knew now that it had cost him dear. Cost him in power he might have had, safety he might have built for his vampires, and in the sheer pleasure he might have experienced. He'd cut himself off from so much, just because I couldn't handle it. That made me feel guilty, but part of the real problem was that after I'd let Jean-Claude in that deep, I'd then turned around and had sex with Byron, and let Requiem bite me. Two things I didn't do lightly. Yeah, it had been important, maybe urgent, maybe it had saved the lives of most of those women in that club. Maybe it had even saved Jean-Claude's life. I'd felt Primo's power and the whisper of the Dragon. But that wasn't what bothered me the most.