He smiled. "Are you saying to step away from Octavius and my lion, and meet you in the middle of the room, for what? A duel? You would die."
"A testing of wills then," I said.
"You cannot hope to win," he said.
"If that's true, then you have nothing to lose, do you?"
"Anita," Claudia said, "I'm not sure about this."
"Come to me, Augustine, come to me." I put everything I had into that command. I wanted him to come to me, now. Before Jean-Claude got here.
He pushed away from his human servant and his lion. He started walking toward me, just like I wanted. "Augustine," Octavius said, "do not do this."
"Come to me, Auggie, come to me."
He had taken two more steps, before he frowned at me. "You are bidding me to come. You are truly calling me."
"I told you what I was."
He shook his head. "I will not come to you."
"Cautious," he said.
"Fine, then I'll meet you halfway, that's fair."
"Anita," Graham said. I ignored him. I started walking toward the waiting vampire. "Meet me partway, Auggie."
He started toward me, not gliding, but stiffly, as if his body wasn't working quite right. He finally stopped before he reached me. Stopped with a look you don't get to see on a master vampire's face often. Nervous, he was nervous.
"What happens when we meet in the middle, Anita?"
"If you get past me, fine, but if you don't, then I win."
"That doesn't seem fair; you have only to stand your ground, but I must walk past you."
We both stopped about two feet away from each other. I coaxed my power, whispered to it what I wanted. I wanted him to obey me. I'd never tried this so overtly against any vampire. A Master of the City was probably not the place to start, but it was too late now.
He swayed on his expensive shoes. "I will not."
"Will not what?" I asked, but my voice held the power that was breathing around us. My voice knew what.
I expected him just to keep resisting. I should have remembered that there were other options.
"You want me, Anita, you can have me. I can do what I wanted to do all along, and Jean-Claude can't even get mad."
I hesitated, stumbling in my mind, the power flickering. "What..."
He moved faster than I could follow, closing the distance, taking me in his arms. I was suddenly pinned against his body, my arms trapped. My power pushed at him, but his power pushed back.
"I feel it, your power, and God, you are powerful. If you were just a necromancer you might even win, but you aren't just that, are you?" He lowered his face toward me, as if he meant to kiss me.
"Stop, I command you to stop."
He actually hesitated, swallowing hard, closing his eyes, but when he opened them, it was as if his power had taken a catastrophic leap. The gaze from his eyes stopped the breath in my throat. "Strong, but not strong enough." He flexed his power, like some invisible muscle, and that flexing shot through my body. It bowed my spine, and only his arms kept me upright. We half fell to our knees, as if my collapse caught him by surprise. He ripped my controls away from the ardeur. He did it better and quicker than Thea had dreamt of. He brought the ardeur, with my body wrapped in his. He brought the ardeur knowing that once it rose like this, he would be my food. Which, of course, was what he had meant. He could do what he'd wanted to all along, and Jean-Claude couldn't even get mad.
PASSION LIKE SOMETHING touchable, solid, spilled up through my body and over his. Lust like some thick, heavy paint flowed over us, covering us, trapping us.
I froze, afraid to breathe, afraid to speak, afraid most of all to move. I'd gone from finding Auggie handsome, arrogant, and beginning not to like him, to wanting to be na**d with him. Even for the ardeur it was an abrupt switch.
I wanted to ask him what had he done to me, but was afraid to move that much, and even more afraid to draw his attention to me. Afraid of what he would do, no, not true: terrified of what I would do.
I stayed frozen in his arms. Perfectly still, only my pulse moving. If I could simply not move, I could hold on. I'd won the fight. Auggie was offering himself up as food; that made me the winner. Vampire rules: food loses. All I had to do was hold on until Jean-Claude came. I could do that. He was close. I could feel him coming down the stairs. Minutes, minutes away from help. But fighting the ardeur by not acting only works if the other person involved wants it to work. It needs two people trying to fight it. Auggie didn't want to fight it. He wanted to lose.
His eyes closed, and his head fell back, almost as if the sex had already started. His voice was hoarse as he said, "I had almost forgotten how it feels to be consumed by passion." He lowered his face so he could meet my gaze. "I try to forget the touch of it, Anita. I almost succeed in convincing myself it wasn't real, that nothing ever felt so amazing, then she sends me a dream."
I knew who she was, because when any of Belle's line said her, or she, of course, you knew who she was. Belle Morte. It was always Belle Morte. Their dark mistress, the creator of them all.
"Did you hear me, Anita? Did you hear me?" His arms moved so that he was gripping my upper arms, our bodies still pressed too close together. There was room to try to fight, to try for a weapon, but it was too late for that. If I went for a weapon, I wasn't certain I could make my hands grab a gun, or a blade. My hands ached for the touch of his skin. I wasn't trustworthy. I wanted to scream in my mind for Jean-Claude, but with the ardeur this strong, I wasn't sure if it could spread that way.
Auggie shook me. "Did you hear me, Anita?"
I felt movement, caught a glimpse of black at the sides. If anyone touched us the ardeur would spread to them. Bad, very bad. "Stay back," I whispered, "tell them."
Micah said, "Don't touch either of them. It spreads by touch."
"You touch her and I'll shoot you, Graham." This from Claudia.
"Look at me, Anita," Auggie said. "Me."
I swallowed my pulse, and moved, very slowly, to look at him. I met the charcoal gray of his gaze, and whatever he saw there seemed to satisfy him. "She sends such dreams, Anita. Dreams like this, where lust is something touchable, holdable, caressable, and it's spilling over your skin, drowning you in its need." He leaned in toward me, as if for a kiss.
I turned my head down, away, still careful, still slow. Move too fast and the ardeur was like a predator, attracted by quick movements. But a small turn of the head, that I could do.
"Don't turn away. Let me kiss you. Let me spill this waiting press of heat over us. Let us drown together."
I kept my face turned away, my hands in fists, because all I could think of was what his body would feel like under my hands. I wanted to trace his shoulders, his chest, see the muscled promise of him nude before me. It was like months, or years, of dating and wanting all packed into moments. Requiem, one of our imports from Britain, could cause instant body reaction, hours of really good foreplay in seconds of power. Could Auggie hit the emotional markers as fast as Requiem could hit the physical ones? Sweet Mary, Mother of God, help me.
The moment the thought left me, I was calmer, could think more clearly. For years I hadn't prayed during times like this, too embarrassed, but I'd finally realized if my faith was real, then it didn't desert me just because I was outside societal norms.
"No," he said, "no, I will not come this close and be denied." He drew me in against his body, and I fought to stay stiff and unyielding when all I wanted to do in the whole wide world was touch him. He rested his cheek against my hair. "I feel your master's nearness, Anita. You wait for rescue, but remember, unless you actually feed from me, then you have not won this fight." I felt the press of his lips against my temple, soft and hot. "Do you really believe Jean-Claude will win against me? Feed and you win, and so does he."
He was implying what I'd already thought of, that if Jean-Claude hit the door before I'd won, that we would lose, badly. I'd felt the power in Auggie, and I knew the power in Jean-Claude. If it was a straight-up battle, we would lose. I couldn't let that happen.
Micah's voice came from behind me. He didn't touch me, but he said, "There are other hungers, Anita. Other drives." He spoke carefully, as if he wasn't sure how well I could hear him.