He started to look at the couch again. I touched his arm. A jolt of power ran through me, made me drop his arm. It stopped him midmotion, turned him back to me with his pulse pushing at the side of his throat. "What was that?"
I fought the urge to rub my hand along the side of my skirt. "I'm not sure. Power, some kind of power."
"You're not sure?" He sounded as suspicious as he looked.
"I honestly don't know why there was a power jump when we touched. I didn't like it either."
"I want to go home," he said. "I don't like being traded away, and I really don't like being offered up for sex like some kind of whore." He let the anger fill his voice, and the anger raised his power like heat across my skin.
Octavius said, "Be careful, cat."
"No," I said, "I want honesty. I've seen what happens if someone is forced to be in a group that they don't want to be in. The local lion pride works well; I don't want to queer their deal."
"So you won't taste Pierce now, will you?" Auggie asked from the couch.
I shook my head. "Take him back home, Auggie. I'm surprised you brought him, him not wanting to come."
"Bunny said Pierce was one of the best lovers she'd ever had. I thought you'd enjoy that."
I couldn't control my face fast enough.
"What's wrong with that?" Auggie asked.
"The idea of Bunny, just--" I made a push-away gesture. "I'm fighting off a visual."
"She could be crude, but she was very good at her job."
I looked at Auggie. "And her job would be?"
"She's your mistress, not your whore. Mistress means more than just sex."
"Now that is Jean-Claude talking."
"Maybe, but it's still true."
He shrugged those massive shoulders. "You've met her, Anita, do you really think I sat around and had stimulating conversations with Bunny?"
I laughed, I couldn't help it. "No, I guess not." Then another thought occurred to me. "Why would you date anyone that you couldn't talk to?"
He just stared at me, a look on his face that I couldn't read. "You mean that, don't you?" He smiled, almost sadly, shook his head, and wouldn't meet my gaze. "Oh, Anita, you make me feel jaded, and very old."
"Do I apologize for that?" I asked.
He looked up, smiling still. "No, but that you meant that question makes me wonder about my choices for your pomme de sang. I looked for good sex, dominants, because everyone needs more muscle. I did not look for good conversation, or someone with interests like yours. I wasn't looking for a date. I was looking for food and f**king."
"You need a woman in your organization, Auggie. Being all guys limits you."
"Are you saying I need a woman's touch?"
"Yeah, and there isn't a woman of Belle's line that will go with you just to be your whore. We promised them that they'd have choices when they came here."
"Are you saying I have to court them?"
I nodded. "Yeah, I am."
"And Jean-Claude agrees to this?" Octavius said.
I nodded. "He gave his word that no one would be forced to have sex against their will."
"Ah," Auggie said, then he laughed. "Dating. I haven't dated in decades. I wonder if I remember how."
"The Master of the City does not have to date," Octavius said, "he commands."
"You're in the wrong town for that attitude," I said.
"You are so certain of that?" he said.
"Taste Haven," Auggie said. "If you don't like him, then I'm going to have to send home for some less dominant take-out."
I looked up at the tall man in front of me. He looked down with that soft, laughing face, and I just didn't buy it. It was like the smile and sparkly eyes was his version of a cop face. A way to hide everything.
He dropped gracefully to his knees. Which made him not that much shorter than me. I added at least another inch to his height. He laughed, that joyous laugh that seemed so sincere. "You should see your face, so suspicious. I just thought that this way you have your choice of wrist or neck. With me standing, you can't reach my neck."
It made sense, so why didn't I like it? No answer other than the one I'd had since I saw him. Being close to him reacted with that primitive part of the brain that keeps you alive if you don't argue with it. Touching him was dangerous in some way, but in what way? The trouble with the primitive brain is that it doesn't reason, or explain, it just feels. I could just touch him, then turn him down. He'd be on his way back to Chicago, no harm, no foul.
I reached for his hand, and he gave it. I wondered if I'd get that jolt of energy like I had from Pierce, but his hand was simply warm. His hand was very passive in mine, but when I pushed back the sleeve of his jacket, he had on a French-cuffed shirt, with real cuff links. "Shit."
"You don't like French cuffs?"
I frowned down at him. "It'll take a while to unhook your wrists."
He gave me that smile again, but the blue eyes weren't quite as neutrally cheerful. I got to glimpse the coldness under that smile. For some reason it made me feel better. I liked truth, most of the time.
"Why are you smiling?" he asked, and his voice held just a hint of uncertainty. Good.
I shook my head. "Nothing." I smoothed my hand up the side of his face, turned him so the line of his neck stretched above the collar of his dress shirt. I bent over him, one hand on his shoulder for balance, the other cradling the side of his face. The neck was always so much more intimate than the wrist.
I meant to simply lay my lips against his neck. But when I was close enough to smell his skin, all my good intentions vanished. He smelled so warm, so incredibly warm. I wanted to put my mouth against that warmth, but not to kiss. I put my face so close to the warm, smooth line of his neck that a hard thought would have made my lips touch his skin. But I kept just above his neck, and breathed in the scent of him. Warm, a faint hint of some powdery sweet cologne, barely there, soap, and underneath just the scent of his body. Human, and deeper still, where my breath blew back hot from his skin, the musky hint of cat. Cleaner, less sharp than leopard. But definitely cat, not wolf, not dog. I breathed in the scent of lion as it rose from his skin, as if my breath called it forth.
My arms slid down his back, across his shoulders, folding my body around his. He'd behaved himself until then, hands at his sides, but now he reached for me, wrapped me in the strength of his arms, the force of his fingers, kneading at my body through my clothes.
I heard him whisper, "Oh, God."
I laid the gentlest of kisses against that hot, smooth skin, a feather's touch of a kiss, and it wasn't enough. I could smell what I wanted just below the surface. I could smell his blood like something sweet and metallic. I licked along his neck, licked over the warm, jumping life of his pulse. He shuddered in my arms.
I heard a voice. "Anita, Anita, don't do this." I didn't know who it was, and didn't understand what they were talking about. I needed to taste his pulse, feel it quiver between my teeth until it burst hot and scalding in my mouth.
A wrist appeared near my face. I smelled leopard. Micah called me back from that quivering edge. "Anita, what are you doing?"
I didn't unwind from Haven's body. I raised my face only enough to see Micah. "Tasting him," and my voice sounded hoarse and not mine.
"Let him go, Anita."
I shook my head, and felt Haven's fingers hard and firm, as if he had claws to sink into my body, and I wanted him to do it.
Graham came next, putting his wrist between me and that pulsing candy. But the musk of wolf was not what I wanted.
Nathaniel was next, putting the sweetness of his wrist between me and Haven's neck. He still smelled of vanilla, but that wasn't the scent I was after tonight. I shook my head. "No."
"Something's wrong, Anita, you need to stop."
I shook my head again, sending my hair flying over the kneeling man's face. He made a sound low in his throat from the sensation of it. The sound made me push Nathaniel away and lay my mouth over the shivering of Haven's pulse, not a kiss, no, my mouth was too wide for a kiss. My jaw tensed to bite him, and two things happened simultaneously. Someone grabbed a handful of my hair, and a wrist I didn't know well was suddenly in my face.
A voice that had already gone growling deep said, "If it is lion you want, then here I am."