"I am a siren," Thea said.
I nodded. "I know."
"Do you understand what that means among my kind?"
"I know that most mermaids who exhibit siren abilities are killed by the other merpeople before they can reach their full power."
"Do you know why?"
"Because in full power you can control the merpeople magically."
"As a necromancer can control all types of undead," Thea said.
I shrugged. "Yeah, I have some control over a lot of undead, but it's not perfect control, and it doesn't work on everyone."
"Nor does mine work on every merperson, though it works on many. But do you know what the basis of that control is?"
I shook my head. "No."
"Sex, or seduction perhaps."
I crooked an eyebrow at her. "What does that mean exactly in this context?"
"It means that I hold something similar to the ardeur that you and Jean-Claude share. It attracts both my kind and mortals to me, as the ardeur attracts the dead and apparently lycanthropes and mortals to you."
I frowned at her. "Yeah, a lot of guys want a full taste of the ardeur once they get a small taste." I fought not to look for Graham when I said it. "But they aren't attracted to me because of it."
She gave that gull-and-surf laugh again. "You do not know what you are, Anita. The ardeur alone does not make you a succubus, or Jean-Claude an incubus. I have met others with the ardeur, but fewer with that next level of power. You have it. Your master has it. People are drawn to you because of it. The very touch of your skin can be addictive."
I gave her a look. "Like the touch of your skin is supposed to be addictive?"
I fought not to smile, but didn't quite succeed. I licked the cut she'd made in my lip, and said, "No insult meant, but I don't crave your touch."
"No, you fought me. You won."
"What do you want from me?"
"I believe that my sons have inherited my powers, but there is only one way for a siren to be fully born. Another siren must bring them into their power."
I saw where this was going, or was afraid I did. "Let me guess: the only way to bring them over is to have sex."
"You can't find another siren to do the job for you?"
"I am the last of my kind, Anita. I am the last siren. Unless you have the power to awaken my sons."
Micah squeezed my hand tighter. Nathaniel moved in so that our bodies touched from shoulder to hip. "Okay, if we're being honest, I'm a little disturbed by your pimping out your sons to me."
"What does 'pimping out' mean?" she asked.
I sighed. Great, one of those moments when you really don't want to explain the slang. Nathaniel said, "It means to sell someone else for sexual purposes."
She frowned, then said, "I cannot truly argue the definition. I wish you to have sex with my sons, and it will gain us both a stronger alliance. They will gain power from it. So, if that is selling, I cannot argue this 'pimping out.' "
"But if you are only a carrier of the ardeur and not a true succubus, then you cannot do what Thea wishes," Samuel said.
I looked at them both. "And how do we find out if I've got what Thea wants?" I couldn't keep the suspicion out of my voice.
Nathaniel stroked my shoulder like you'd settle a nervous horse, but I didn't push him away. I was getting tense, and fighting not to get angry.
"Let down your inner walls, and let my power taste yours." She said it like it was easy, a small thing.
I shook my head. "I don't know."
"The thought of my 'pimping out' my sons to you makes you uncomfortable, does it not?"
"Yeah, it does."
"If your power is not close enough to mine, then we will stay for the parties, and the ballet, but you will not have to look at them as pommes de sang. We will take our sons home and you will not have to worry over your discomfort."
It sounded too easy. "It sounds simple, but before I say yes, what are the possible side effects of your power exploring mine?"
She looked puzzled. "I am not certain I understand the question."
"She means," Micah said, "what bad things could happen if she allows this?"
She actually thought about it for almost a minute. "It should be only a touch of powers, like two leviathans moving in the deep, sliding their sides against each other, then passing away into the dark depths of the sea."
I felt calmer, as if I could feel those dark, peaceful depths.
"Should be," Micah said. "What else could happen?"
"It could call your ardeur to the surface and you would be forced to feed."
I was suddenly tense again, the peaceful dark depths gone like smoke in the wind. "No," I said.
Nathaniel whispered in my ear. "You can feed from me without intercourse, Anita. It's a way of getting rid of them."
Micah looked at me. "Only you can decide if the chance of having to feed the ardeur here and now is worth it, Anita."
I looked at the sons. The twins looked at me, smiling, somewhere between amused and embarrassed. But it was the kind of embarrassment that any teenager would have felt if his mom did something that made him squirm. The older one, behind the love seat, looked more like I felt, uncomfortable as hell.
"You must be Sampson," I said.
He looked startled, then nodded. "I am."
"What do you think about all this? I mean, do you want to be brought into your sirenhood?"
He looked down, then up. "Do you know that you are the first person to ask me how I feel about this?"
I let the surprise show on my face.
"It's no reflection on my parents. They love me. Us. But Father is over a thousand years old, and Mother is older still. Arranged marriages don't seem strange to them, and they both would love to have one of us be as powerful as Mother. It would cement our power base along the entire eastern seaboard of this country. I understand all that, or I wouldn't be standing here."
"But," I said.
He smiled, and it was his father's smile. "But, I don't know you. The thought of being forced to have sex with anyone is just... wrong."
I looked at the twins. "And you, Thomas and Cristos, right?"
"How do you feel about this?"
They looked at each other, then one blushed and the other didn't. The one who didn't blush said, "I'm Thomas, Tom, when Mom's not around to complain." He gave her a smile out of his father's hazel eyes. "I saw pictures of you before we came. I knew you were pretty, and"--now he blushed, bit his lip, and tried again--"I would love to have an excuse to have sex with you. There, that's the truth."
"How old are you?" I asked.
He glanced at his parents.
"Don't look at them, answer the question."
Sampson answered it, "They're seventeen."
"Seventeen," I said. "Jesus, that's not legal."
"It is legal in Missouri," Thea said. "We did check your laws before we brought them here."
I looked at her, and didn't know what my face showed, but it felt like nothing pleasant. "I don't do teenagers. Hell, I didn't do teenagers when I was one."
"Then let my wife taste your power, Anita," Samuel said. "It is likely that your power will not do what we need. Succubus is close to siren, but not the same creature. If your power does not recognize Thea's, then we will allow Sampson to go home with his morals intact. We will disappoint Thomas."
That reminded me. "Cristos, you never said how you feel about all this."
The one who had blushed raised his eyes to me. The look was enough?mbarrassment, fear even, but under that was eagerness. The look just screamed virgin. I so was not going to be the one who took his virginity. So not doing that. The fact that his parents were encouraging it just made it creepier.
His voice was low, but deep enough. It was not the voice of a child, but the look was. "Cris, I'm Cris."
I wanted to say out loud, Your first time should be with someone you care about. Your virginity should go to someone you love. But I didn't want to embarrass him more than he already was, so instead I said, "Fine." I looked at Thea. "Thea can taste my power." I did not add that I hoped she didn't like the power, because nothing was going to make me pick any of their sons.