Thea made some small movement that drew my attention back to her. She was waiting, outwardly patient, but there was a demand in her. Time to put up, or shut up.
I offered her my wrist.
She took my hand in hers, and again her hand was cool in mine. She wrapped her hand around mine, and used it to draw me in toward her body. She wasn't going to take the wrist, she was going for the neck.
I didn't fight, but I did pull back a little.
She hesitated, giving me those strange black eyes of hers. "If I outrank you, Anita, then it is my choice where to touch."
I shook my head. "No, that you're trying for the neck instead of the wrist means only one of three things: you don't trust me, you're showing how big and bad you are, or you're thinking sex. Which is it, Thea?"
"The second," she said. She kept trying to pull me in against her body, and I started to let her. The strength in her one hand let me know that if I really wanted to struggle I'd have a fight on my hands. She was strong, like shapeshifter strong.
She kept her grip on my wrist as she used her other hand to pull me in against her body, until the two of us were pressed together, not tight, but so our bodies brushed from chest to thighs.
I had to talk staring at her shoulder. She was just too tall for me. "Why do you want me to know that you're big and bad?"
"My wife is very competitive with other women, Anita," Samuel said. "Surely Jean-Claude mentioned that, as he mentioned your temper to us."
"He said something about it, but..." She let go of my wrist so she could slide that arm around my back, pressing me closer to her. Her other hand was sliding up my back toward my hair. But I hadn't understood what competitive meant, I thought. It took almost everything I had not to tense up as she entwined her body around me, close now, so close, lover close, sex close.
Her br**sts were small and tight, and she wasn't wearing a bra. Eeek. I felt stupid with my arms limp at my sides, and I didn't really want to encourage her, but... I ended up sort of hugging her just to keep my balance on the damned high heels.
She leaned her mouth close to my face and whispered, "I do want you to understand that I am superior to you, Anita, but that is only half my reason."
My pulse sped up a little at that. I started to turn to look at her face, but she grabbed a handful of curls and kept my face turned away. I was left staring at the man who had blushed. He looked at me, full face, and he suddenly looked like a younger version of Samuel. How had I not seen it before? He mouthed, I am sorry.
I had trouble speaking around my pulse now, because I had that bad feeling that something was about to happen. Something I wasn't going to enjoy. "What's the other half of your reason?" I asked, voice breathy, holding that edge of nervousness that held a touch of fear.
"I want to know what you are, Anita," she whispered, and her breath was warmer than it had been. Her hands were warm now, as if she had caught a sudden fever. It reminded me of the way some of the shapeshifters felt close to the full moon.
"What's happening?" I asked, but my voice was only a whisper.
Her fingers entwined through my hair until she held my face immobile with her strong hands, and I could feel the heat of her fingers through my hair. She drew her face back from my neck, and stared down at me. She held my face tilted up to her as if for a kiss. "Are you truly what they say you are?"
I struggled to swallow so I could whisper, "What do they say I am?"
"Succubus," she whispered as she lowered her face toward mine. I knew in that instant that she was going to kiss me. "I am seeking another of my kind, Anita. Are you what I seek?" And with the last word she closed her mouth over mine.
HER MOUTH WAS warm, so warm against mine. Warm like hot chocolate. Something you wanted to open your mouth and sip from. It wasn't my idea, opening my mouth, it was hers. Somehow, it was her thought in my head. I didn't like that, not one little bit. The not liking helped me keep my mouth closed tight. She drew back enough to whisper, "Do not fight me."
I heard voices around us arguing. Help was coming, I just had to hold on. I just had to hold my shields in place and not let her do what she was trying to do. Just hold on, that was all. I'd held on when help was miles away; now it was just inches. I could do this.
She'd tried gentle persuasion, mind games, they hadn't worked. She tried force. She kissed me so hard, that either I opened my mouth to her, or she was going to cut my lip on my own teeth. If she'd been a man I would have just let her kiss me--was I really this homophobic? If she hadn't whispered through my mind that she wanted me to open my mouth, I might have done it, but she wanted it too badly. Part of me was just that stubborn, but part of me was afraid of why she wanted it so badly. I knew she was a siren, a sort of uber-mermaid. I knew that some of her magic dealt with seduction and sex. I knew that she could control the other mermaids. I knew all sorts of things from talks with Jean-Claude; what I didn't know was why she wanted me to open my mouth.
Her kiss bruised my mouth and I tasted blood, sweet, metallic candy on my tongue. The moment I tasted the blood, it hurt. She'd cut the inside of my lip on my own teeth.
She drew back. "Why fight so hard simply not to kiss me back? Are you so much a hater of women?"
I tried to shake my head, but she still held my face immobile. "Why do you want me to open my mouth? What difference does it make to you?"
"You are strong, Anita, so strong. The walls of your inner tower are high, and wide, but not impenetrable."
I was getting angry, and I wasn't sure what that would do to my inner tower and its walls. I did not want the beast to rise while we were still doing introductions. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, but said what my anger wanted me to say; I just wasn't angry when I said it. "Either let me go, or breach those walls, but either way this ends."
"I've done all that vampire etiquette requires, so either let me go, or I call in my guards and they force you to let me go."
"Do you need help to break free of me?" she asked, and her voice was singsong again.
"Unless I'm willing to shoot you, yes."
Graham came close enough to say quietly, "Say the word, Anita, and we move her." He sounded eager, or angry. I guess I couldn't blame him. This whole thing had gone beyond grandstanding to just plain rude.
Samuel came to our side. "Thea, this is not the way."
She turned her head and looked at him. "Then what is the way?"
"Perhaps you could simply ask."
A look crossed her face, as if that would never have occurred to her, then she laughed, a high wild sound, and for a second I thought I heard the laughter of seagulls. "So simple, my darling Samuel, so simple." She released the grip on my hair so I could move my neck, which was a relief. She stayed entwined around me, but not so forcefully. We were still too close for comfort, but it was more friendly. "My deepest apologies, Anita; it has been so long since I met anyone who could withstand my desires that I simply kept trying to force. Forgive me."
"Let me go, and I will."
She gave that laugh again, and it wasn't my imagination. When she laughed I heard the sound that herring gulls make, and the whisper of surf. She let me go, stepped back. The moment she moved back the tension level in the room plummeted. All the guards on every side had thought the flags were about to go up. Me, too.
She bowed. "My deepest apologies. I underestimated you, and I am ashamed of my actions."
"I accept your apology."
She stood and regarded me with those black eyes in that pale white and gold face, as if some delicate porcelain doll had the eyes of a movie demon. "You know that we are offering our sons as your pommes de sang."
I nodded. "Jean-Claude told me, and I'm honored." Actually it creeped me out, but I understood that it was supposed to be an honor.
"But do you know why?"
That stopped me, because the answer was, "Jean-Claude said you wished for a stronger alliance between our two kisses."
"We do"--Samuel joined his wife--"but there is a reason that my wife was so adamant that we bring all three of our sons to your table."
"And that reason would be what?" I wanted to just skip this until I had more vampire backup, but I didn't think I'd get the choice.
Micah was suddenly at my side, taking my hand. I felt better. I wasn't alone. We could do this. We didn't have vamps, but we had each other. Nathaniel came in at my back, not quite taking my other hand in case I needed it for weapon grabbing, but close enough that he was a line of heat at my back. Better and better.