His father gave him a stony face, until the laughter faded round the edges. Then Samuel said in a voice that held an edge of injured dignity, "My son has been indiscreet, but he is accurate. You ask why Thea and my other sons are not here; simply put, I did not trust her near the two of you."
"She liked the show," I said.
Samuel shook his head, gave his son another disapproving look. "More than liked, Anita. She is all ablaze with speculative plans. Would it be possible for her and I to do what the two of you did? I find that unlikely, for though Thea carries something similar to the ardeur, I do not. I believe what you did to Augustine required similar gifts between the two of you."
Jean-Claude gave a small nod, face still empty. "I believe so."
"She is now convinced that Anita could bring our sons into the full strength of their siren's powers." Something crossed his face, too faint to read, but with such an empty face, it was strangely noticeable. "I do not share her certainty. What I felt from you tonight, Anita, is a different element of passion. It is like the difference between fire and water. They will both consume you, but in very different manners."
I looked at Sampson's face, still softly amused. "What did your mother actually say?" I asked.
He glanced at his father before he answered. Samuel sighed, then nodded. Sampson grinned at me, and said, "I don't think you really want to know what she said, but what she meant was that if she had her way, Tom and Cris would both be here. She'd be here, too. She'd be offering us all to you any way you wanted us." His face sobered around the edges. "She can get carried away sometimes, our mother. She means well, but she doesn't think entirely like a human being, do you understand?"
"I hang around with vampires, so yeah."
He shook his head, his hands clasped on his knees. "No, Anita, vampires start out human, as do shapeshifters, and necromancers"--he said that with a smile--"but Mother was never human. She thinks like..." He seemed unsure what to say.
Samuel finished for him. "Thea is other, and she reasons in ways that do not always make much sense to those of us who began life as human beings." He didn't sound entirely happy about it, but he stated it as truth.
"That must make life interesting," Richard said.
Samuel gave him cool eyes, but Sampson nodded, smiling. "You have no idea."
"What did you think of the show, Samuel?" Jean-Claude asked.
The other vampire thought about it, face careful, and his voice was just as careful when he answered, "I thought it was one of the most powerful things I have ever seen. I think it is the kind of power that made me flee the great courts, and it is exactly the sort of power that made me avoid Belle Morte's court. It is the kind of display that made me flee Europe for fear of becoming nothing but a vassal of some great vampiric lord."
"Do you fear us now?" Jean-Claude asked.
Samuel nodded. "I do."
"I would not harm you deliberately," Jean-Claude said.
"No, but your power is growing, and growing power is a wild and capricious thing. I do not want my people, or my sons, near you while your power finds its way. I think you will be incredibly dangerous, by accident, for years to come."
"Yet, you come before me with your son. Why? Why not leave my lands, if we are so dangerous?"
"Because Thea is right in one way. If she and I could by some chance duplicate what the two of you did, it would be"--he licked his lips--"worth the risk. I also agree that there is a chance that your Anita could bring my sons into their powers, if they have them."
"Do you believe your sons are so human?" Jean-Claude asked.
"Sampson is well over seventy in human years, so no, not so very human."
I looked at Sampson. He looked somewhere in his early twenties, maybe thirty at most. By no stretch of the imagination did he look seventy. "My," I said, "you're holding up well."
He grinned at me, and I liked the grin. He seemed to find the whole power game a little embarrassing, a little funny. "Clean living," he said, still grinning.
Richard moved beside me, a small, uncomfortable movement. I glanced at him, and his face was beginning to darken. One of Richard's biggest problems with our new lifestyle was jealousy. Of all the men trying to be in my life, he was the only one who found jealousy a real problem. Until I saw that look on his face, I'd been able to ignore that they were still talking about Sampson and me being lovers. I'd gotten better at pushing away the uncomfortable bits until I had to deal with them. Richard was still working on that.
"Thomas and Cristos seem to be aging at a more normal rate."
"They are only seventeen," Jean-Claude said, "too young to be certain, surely."
Samuel shrugged, a normal shrug, not that graceful Gallic movement.
"But for this, I think they are too young, too human, whatever Thea may wish."
"He's afraid you'd break them," Sampson said.
I couldn't help smiling. Richard's frown got deeper. "And your dad isn't worried about you?" I asked.
"He is my oldest," Samuel said, as if that meant more to him than it did to me.
"If you break me, he has two sons left," Sampson said, smiling to take the bite out of it.
Samuel touched his son's arm. "I hold all my children precious, you know that."
He smiled at his father, patted his hand where it lay on his arm. "I know that, Father, but for this kind of power you'd risk one of us, and I'm the most likely to survive without becoming her slave."
"My slave?" I made it a question. "I don't do slaves."
Sampson looked at me as if he were studying me, a shadow of his father's penetrating stare. "If Augustine is not your slave it will only be because he is powerful enough to recover. Not for lack of trying on your part, and I am not nearly as powerful as a Master of the City."
I opened my mouth, closed it, not sure what to say. I finally said, "I don't want anyone to be my slave."
"Then what did you want?" He kept his suddenly serious eyes on me.
I just blinked at him, trying to think. What had I wanted? What had I intended to do to Auggie? "Win," I said.
"What?" Sampson asked.
"Win. I wanted to win. Auggie and your father are supposed to be Jean-Claude's friends. But your mother had almost rolled me. She'd tried to raise the ardeur and make me f**k your brother, your little brother. Then Auggie raised the ardeur, and used his bloodline's special ability on me. If this is what Jean-Claude's friends do to us, then what are the other Masters of the City going to do?" I shook my head, leaning forward on the couch, still holding Jean-Claude's hand, but having to put my hand on Richard's thigh to keep touching him, too. "We had to win this fight. Had to."
"You had to win in such a way that the rest of us would not try your strength," Samuel said.
I nodded. "Yes."
He looked past us to the hallway beyond, so searching a look that it made Richard and me look behind us. Neither Jean-Claude, nor the silent Asher, bothered, as if they knew there was no one there.
"I believe you have succeeded, Anita. If Augustine follows you and Jean-Claude about like a lovesick puppy, then the rest will fear you. Some may even take back their offers of pomme de sang for fear of having you feed off them the way you fed off Augustine's people."
"We fed from Augustine's people because he is their master," Jean-Claude said. "No others offer themselves to ma petite's bed."
"Perhaps," Samuel said, "but I think if they did know what has happened with Augustine, they might be tempted. There is something about her that draws one. Even I feel it, and I am not of Belle's line."
"How strongly drawn?" Jean-Claude asked in that careful voice.
The two vampires looked at each other. There was suddenly something between them, not magic, but almost as if willpower could be something touchable.
"That is an odd question," Samuel said.
"Is it?" Jean-Claude asked, and his voice held a lilt at the end that sounded strangely chiding.
Samuel settled back against the love seat, as if he was going to be there for a while. Somehow they both knew they were negotiating. "It was surprisingly bad manners for Augustine to have started a fight with your human servant."
"Yes," Jean-Claude said, "it seemed out of character for him, don't you think?"