Micah was right. The ardeur had a habit of swallowing the world, and my logic with it. There were other hungers and they were inside me, just like the ardeur. Once I'd thought to raise other hungers I had to open the marks between Richard, or Micah, or Nathaniel, but I knew better now. The beast wasn't something I got from them. It was something inside me. The fact that it had no way out, no way to make my body match its hunger, didn't make it less real.
I closed my eyes and reached down inside myself, like a metaphysical hand reaching into a sack. Searching for what I needed. Auggie inadvertently helped me. He jerked me off my knees with a crushing grip on my arms. It hurt, but the pain didn't blow my concentration, no, the beast liked anger. Anger and pain meant we had to fight, and we were good at fighting.
Always before the beast had been a process, but now it was like a switch in my head. One moment me, the next, something that wasn't thinking about sex, or even food. Escape, escape, escape!
I screamed into his face, wordless, rage-filled. He jerked me close to his face. He grabbed my hair, and tried for that kiss. But it was too late for kisses. Too late for so much.
I bit him. Sank my teeth into his pouting lower lip. The grip on my hair became painful, and he tried to control my face, my head, my mouth, with that bruising grip. He couldn't pull me off before I bit through his lip, and he seemed to know that, because his other hand went to my jaw, the way you'd grip an animal at the hinge of the jaw, pressing inward. If you have the strength you can force an animal not to bite down completely. If you have the strength you can pry him off.
He had the strength to keep me from biting his lip off, but that was all, unless he was willing to crush my jaw. I kept trying to bite him, and he kept me from doing it. If there'd been enough person left in me I'd have gone for my gun, or the knife, but I'd given up thoughts of knives and guns when I embraced my beast. All I could think of was teeth and claws. I raked my nails down his hands, bloodied him in ribbons to try to get free.
He was going to have to cripple me or let me go. But he had one other option, and he used it. He threw another burst of power into me. He raised the ardeur again, drowned my beast in desire, and things that are only partly about mating. If he'd been like some of Belle's line and only affected me physically, the beast wouldn't have left, but his flavor of Belle Morte's power was more... human. It was not just lust, but love. He had the ability to make you love him. Evil did not begin to cover what he did to me. Because in that moment, I loved him. Loved him completely and utterly. Part of me that was still sane prayed, Don't let this be permanent.
I went up on my knees, stretching toward that full mouth that a moment before I'd been trying to bite off. I gave him the kiss he'd wanted. The fresh blood didn't make it horrible, he was a vampire and... Roses, roses on the air like some cloying perfume. I was drowning in the scent of it, so that as I kissed him, the blood tasted of roses.
Auggie jerked back from me. "Roses, oh, God, you taste of roses." He pulled back enough to see my face, and the fear showed on his face. "Your eyes, Anita, your eyes."
I'd seen Belle Morte's eyes in my face before. Her pale brown eyes like dark honey filled with fire. I stared up at Auggie with her eyes, and she saw him, too. While her dark light filled my eyes she saw what I saw.
She whispered through my mind, "Did you truly believe that Jean-Claude being a sourdre de sang would keep you safe from me, Anita?"
Yeah, actually, I had. She knew, and thought it was funny as hell. "What do you want?" I asked. Fear like fine champagne was tingling through my body. The ardeur, the beast, all of it, was washed away under that rush of fear.
She gazed up at Auggie, kneeling above us, and I knew what she wanted. I felt regret in her. Regret that Auggie had gone from her bed and her body. "But you exiled him," I said.
"Stay out of my thoughts, Anita." She was sitting on the edge of her huge four-poster bed. A bed I'd seen once before in Jean-Claude's memories. She was curled there, a white gown centuries out of date covering the lushness of her body, so that she looked petite, like a dainty pouting child as she leaned against the carved wood. Her hair was a wealth of dark waves longer than my own. For the first time I realized that we looked at least superficially alike. Petite brunettes with ice-pale skin, and brown eyes.
"I was the greatest beauty in all of Europe; how dare you compare yourself to me?" Her power lashed through me, like the sharp blow of a whip.
"Forgive me," I said, because I'd meant no disrespect. I hadn't meant I was as beautiful as she, only that we shared some traits.
The thought mollified her, but it also freed her to concentrate on why she'd entered me in the first place. Not good. "Augustine," she said, her voice spilling in a lower alto purr than my normal voice. It wasn't her voice exactly, because she had to use my throat, but it wasn't my voice either. It was close enough to hers to widen Auggie's eyes, and make him go paler than death itself. I don't know if I'd ever seen a vampire go pale before.
"How is this possible?" he whispered.
"You called me," she said with my lips. "Your power and your blood called me."
He swallowed, rolling his lips when he did it, so that the blood seeped faster from the cut. The bite was healing as we watched, but it was still bleeding. "I did not mean..."
"You caused her to love you, Augustine, as you tried to force me to do. But no one forces Belle Morte, no one."
"Forgive me, I did not know what my powers could do." He whispered it, hands still on my arms, but gentle now. His hold was so loose that I could have broken away easily, but it was too late for that to matter. We had bigger problems than the ardeur.
"But I can enjoy you again, here and now, and it will not be I who falls in love, but her. It will cause her pain, and Jean-Claude pain. It will even cause you pain." She laughed, sitting on her bed hundreds and hundreds of miles away. "For as Requiem can raise the body's lust in his victim, he also raises it in himself. So, once you force a woman to love you, you love her back. It is the nature of our bloodline that our powers are two-edged."
Again, I felt regret in her. I knew in that moment that once Auggie had used his power to its full extent, the effect wasn't temporary.
"No, Anita," she said inside my head, talking to me from the firelit edge of her bed. "It is quite permanent, I assure you."
"Then you love..."
She lashed out again, with that sharp power. It stopped what I'd been about to say, and let her speak. "All love Belle Morte. All adore me. It is my nature to be loved."
But I'd been too close to her mind too often not to understand her better than that. "Lust," I said out loud, "all lust after Belle Morte."
"Lust, love, what difference the word, it means the same." But we were too deeply wedded together. She knew my thought on that, that lust and love aren't the same thing at all, and that thought was so loud that I felt her stumble in her mind. Felt her doubt; for half a moment, I felt doubt there. And it wasn't I who put that seed of doubt in her mind. It was already there, had been there since Jean-Claude and Asher left her side voluntarily centuries ago.
"They returned to me, Anita, don't forget that. They could not live without Belle Morte!" She was on her knees on the bed now, face beautiful in her anger. But I knew better than most what lay behind anger: fear.
"Enough of this!" she shouted, and that shout echoed through my mind, my body, and hit Auggie like a blow. He staggered, fighting to stay on his knees, to hold me. But her power was there, her version of the ardeur, the original. All that had come from Belle Morte were but pieces of her own power. We were reflections of her. The real thing roared over me, tore a scream from my mouth, and Auggie echoed me.
Her power tried to spill out from us, tried to fill the room and touch everything near us. Auggie threw up a wall around it. He used his will, his power as a Master of the City to hold it back. But it wouldn't last for long. I tried to call necromancy. I'd used it to chase her out before, but I couldn't shut down the ardeur. Until that was cleared, I was useless.
He found his words before I did. "Everyone out, out, all of you. We can't hold it like this for long. When we lose control it will fill this room."
"It spreads by touch," Micah said.
Auggie shook his head. "This isn't Jean-Claude's ardeur, this is Belle's. Proximity is enough." He shuddered, shoulders hunching as if some great weight were beginning to crush him. "Samuel, get your family out. You don't know what this could make you do."