Jean-Claude gave that Gallic shrug again, that meant yes, no, everything, and nothing. "As you like," he said.
"You just f**k Anita, too." She'd turned back to Jason.
He smiled, but gentler this time. "Anita makes it impossible to just f**k her."
"What does that mean?" Meng Die asked.
"She was my friend, my good friend, before we ever had sex. You can't just f**k someone that's important to you. Because if you screw it up, you lose more than potential sex, you lose your friend. Her friendship was more important to me than the sex, so it had to be making love, not just racking."
"I don't understand you," she said.
Requiem's voice then. "Because sex is almost never casual for Anita, it makes sex with Anita almost never casual."
Meng Die shook her head. "I don't understand."
"I know you do not," he said, "and for that I am sorry."
"Don't pity me!" She shouted it.
I couldn't see any weapons on her, but the leather could have hidden surprises. Slender surprises, but blades can be amazingly easy to hide.
"I want to f**k, who will f**k me?" Her words hit the air like a stone, and smashed into a suddenly heavy silence.
She looked at the men one at a time. She went to Damian, but he backed up, shaking his head. "Why shake your head? She is your master, not your wife."
Damian actually looked a little embarrassed, as he said, "We f**k when we can't find anyone else."
Again, news to me.
"So, I am who you f**k if you can't find anyone else, really?" That purring contralto went from sounding sexy to sounding ominous.
"You've turned me down enough, Meng Die. When Graham, or Clay, or Requiem was available, you didn't even look at me. It stops being flattering to be last on a woman's list."
She looked at Auggie, and he just said, "We're doing business."
She turned to Noel. He backed away, as if she'd struck at him. "You scare me," he said.
"But Anita does not scare you?"
"She scares me less than you do."
Meng Die frowned at him. "Why?"
I didn't expect Noel to answer, but he did. "Anita may hurt me by accident, but I think you'd hurt me just to see me bleed." Damn perceptive for walking food.
I felt London coming down the hallway. Felt him in a way that I shouldn't have been able to feel him. He was seeking me, using his vampire powers to find his fix again. I looked up, and found him coming toward us, all dark and pale.
Meng Die's face brightened when she saw London. She practically skipped toward him. He glanced at her, but that was all. His eyes were set on me as if I were his north star and he were lost at sea without me. Shit.
She slid her small hand through the bend of his arm, their black-on-black clothing blending together nicely. "Come on, London, let's leave them to their business."
"Not right now," he said, and didn't look at her when he said it. He looked at me.
She stiffened, gazing slowly up at him, then followed where he was looking. She came to me, and started shaking her head. "No," she said, "not London. You think he's dark and morose."
"He is dark and morose," I said.
"But you f**ked him anyway," she said.
I shrugged, and gave her the "sorry" face. I mean, what was I supposed to say?
"You don't even like him," she said.
"It was sort of an accident," I said.
"How do you accidentally have sex?"
It was a good question. I did not have a good answer.
London walked away from her. He never looked at her as he glided toward me.
I watched her face pale with anger. Her hand slid to the small of her back, and I knew she had a weapon. I took a breath to say something, but Claudia and Lisandro were ahead of me. The guns under their arms just seemed to magically appear in their hands. Claudia's gun touched Meng Die's shining black hair. Lisandro's hand was hidden by Meng Die's slender back.
Claudia said one word. "Don't."
Everyone on our side of the hallway moved closer to us. Everyone behind Meng Die moved farther down the hallway. Everyone except the bodyguards, that is. The bodyguards on Pierce and Octavius started to join them, but I shook my head. They stayed at their posts. We had four guards on Meng Die, two of them with guns plastered to her. Two extra guards wouldn't make a difference on her, but it might on Auggie and his crew.
It was one of those moments when the world seems to hold its breath. Because the next breath may be someone's last.
"Do not die this way." Jean-Claude said it in a voice that shivered down the skin. But he was directing that voice at her, especially for her. I knew what it was like to be the target of that voice.
The tension left her shoulders. Her eyes were unfocused for a second. Lisandro used that second to take the knife out of her hand. Meng Die reacted to it, but too late.
She started to turn as if she meant to go for her blade, but Claudia pressed the gun barrel hard into the side of her head. Meng Die, wisely, chose to stop moving.
"Check her," Claudia said.
Lisandro holstered his gun and frisked Meng Die. He did it quickly, efficiently, and very, very thoroughly. "There are rivets and ridges throughout the leather. They could hide a few things. Do you want me to rip the leather open?" He asked it as if it were an everyday question.
"Your word of honor that you are not carrying anything else?" Claudia said.
Meng Die hesitated, then finally said, "There was just the one knife. This outfit doesn't leave much room for hiding weapons."
Claudia's eyes flicked to Jean-Claude. "It's your call, Jean-Claude, do we back up, or do we finish it?"
"Will you behave yourself, Meng Die?" he asked, and this time in as normal a voice as he could manage.
She gave him a look of such hatred that she didn't look quite sane. "I will not try to kill anyone tonight." Not exactly a rousing yes, but Jean-Claude nodded.
Claudia hesitated, then stepped back and lowered her gun. She didn't holster it, though. I couldn't say I blamed her.
London went to one knee in front of me, head bowed. It was a gesture that should have had a cloak and a plumed hat with it, so old-fashioned. "I am able to serve my lady again, if she has need."
It took me a second or two to work out what he meant. "You mean feed the ardeur again?"
He looked up. "Yes."
I looked down into that so-serious face. "You know if you act as food for the ardeur too often, it can be fatal?"
"Yes, but I can feed the ardeur every two hours or so in a twenty-four-hour period without ill effect."
I stared at him. "You're joking, right?"
"Why would I joke about such a thing?"
"I don't know, but... London, even the strongest, most powerful person I feed on can only feed twice in a row with a break of at least six hours between."
"It is my gift, Anita," he said.
"London is the perfect food for the ardeur. He can truly feed every few hours day after day, to no ill effect. In fact, Belle Morte said he seemed to gain power from it," Jean-Claude said.
"I'm scrambling to figure out how to feed and control this thing, and we have someone who is made to take care of it, and you didn't mention it to me sooner?"
"And if I had?" he said, simply.
I opened my mouth to protest, then closed it. If he had, what would I have done? "I'd have accused you of trying to set me up with London."
"Since he did not wish to be captured by the ardeur again, I thought it wisest not to mention his talent. To raise the possibility of it would be, I felt, a betrayal of his trust. For it would raise the issue of his being food for the ardeur. He was most adamant against it, ma petite."
"What's the downside to being able to feed the ardeur like this?" I asked, looking back at the vampire kneeling at my feet.
"Everyone is eventually addicted to the ardeur, but for me, the addiction is immediate."
"You're addicted again?" I said.
"Yes." His eyes were so peaceful, more peaceful than I'd ever seen them. He looked happier and more at home in his own skin than ever before. I looked up, and it was Nathaniel's gaze that I caught. He looked solemn, eyes not peaceful at all.
"You always look happy at the beginning of an addiction," Nathaniel said.
"What happens later?" I asked.