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Danse Macabre (Vampire Hunter 14) - Page 61


His long, straight hair, so dark it mingled with the black cloak, made his pale skin all the paler, and helped the bruises stand out like purple ink on his face.

"Wow," I said, "how much blood are you using to heal that?"

He looked at me then, and the look on his face said, clearly, I'd said something smart. "Much."

"How fares the rest?" Jean-Claude asked.

Requiem spread the cloak wide with a gesture of both arms, so that it was like a curtain spilled dramatically around his body. His upper body shone like white flame against the darkness. My eyes adjusted to all that contrast and I realized that some of the whiteness was bandages. His right arm, chest, and stomach were all thick with gauze and white tape.

"Jesus, did Meng Die really do all that?"

"Yes." He said that, and no more. Requiem rarely gave just a one-word answer to anything. He came toward us, the cloak flying out behind him, which said he was moving faster than that gliding walk appeared.

"Ma petite, if you could fetch scissors from the bathroom drawer, we can look at his wounds."

I did it without being asked. I'd noticed the bruises last night, but hadn't seen all the bandages under his shirt. I had had no idea how hurt he was. I hesitated in the bathroom with the scissors in my hand. I caught sight of myself in the mirror. I looked sort of startled. Had he really dumped Meng Die because of me? Dumped another woman on the off chance that I might take him as a pomme de sang? I stared at myself in the mirror and just didn't see a woman who could make a man dump someone on the possibility of sex. Elinore, maybe, but me... I just didn't think so.

I went back to the other room, and found Requiem sitting on the bed beside Jean-Claude, who was turning his face to the light, checking his bruises.

Requiem was talking as I entered. "... she said, if she could not have my pretty face on her pillow, then no one would have it."

Someone had brought one of the chairs by the fireplace so Elinore could sit and not be on the bed. "So she tried to ruin your face," she said, softly.

"Yes," he said, in that strangely clipped voice that wasn't at all his usual.

I held the scissors out to Jean-Claude. He took them and laid them on the bedside table. "I think perhaps we can take off the tape, if you will help me, ma petite?"

I had to move Requiem's cloak where he'd draped it on the end of the bed. The bed was tall enough that I had to make certain I was sitting far enough back from the edge so I wouldn't slide off. Silk coverlet, silk robe, makes for slippery. I took Requiem's hand in mine. The bandages wrapped around his hand, and up nearly to the elbow. "You didn't get this from her hitting you," I said.

"She had a blade," he said, and again, his voice was clipped and to the point.

I looked up at him, and even the uninjured half of his face showed me nothing. He was lovely and empty like Jean-Claude was sometimes. Like looking at a painting of some handsome prince come back from battle. Even as I cradled his arm in my hands, he was as distant and remote as if he'd been hanging on a museum wall.

Jean-Claude was already peeling tape from around Requiem's chest. I bent over his arm and worked on the tape there, holding his hand in mine while I started unwinding the gauze. His hand was crisscrossed with shallow and not-so-shallow slashes. I raised his hand as gently as I could, so I could keep unwrapping. The bandages fell away and I made a sound; I couldn't help it. I put my hand at his hand and elbow, and lifted, gently. His forearm was a mass of slashing wounds. Two of them needed stitches.

I looked at his face, and he met my eyes, and for an instant there was a flash of anger in those eyes; then it went back to being empty.

"These are defensive wounds. You held your arm up in front of your face, because that's what she was going for."

"Not entirely, ma petite." Jean-Claude's voice drew me back to him, and Requiem's now bare chest. I let out a hiss of breath, because he was right. His pale, muscular chest didn't have as many wounds as his arm, but the ones he did have were deeper.

I traced the one under the sternum. It was deep, and I could see the mark of the blade in his flesh. I looked up at him, and it must have shown on my face.

"So shocked, Anita, why?"

"She was trying for your heart. She was really trying to kill you."

"I told you that last night, ma petite."

"I know you said she was trying to kill him, but..." I traced my fingers just above another wound that went between his ribs. The stab wounds were well placed. She'd tried to hack his face, and the marks on the arm showed that she just wanted damage, but the wounds on his chest and stomach, they were kills. "She knew just where to place the blade." My respect for Meng Die went up, and so did my fear. "And she did all this where the customers could see?"

"Not all of it," Requiem said, "but much of it, yes."

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I looked at Jean-Claude. "And no one called the cops?"

He had the grace to look away, not embarrassed, but... "What did you do?" I asked.

"Mass hypnosis is not illegal, ma petite, only personal hypnotism."

"You bespelled the crowd," I said.

"I, and Asher."

I laid my hand above the wound that looked like it had come closest to his heart. I had a bad thought. "You said she attacked Asher. Is he this hurt?"

"No."

"I think she knew that you and Jean-Claude would kill her if she slew Asher. I think she believed I was of less value to you." Again his voice was empty, but the very emptiness of it made me look at him.

"That sounded bitter," I said.

He looked away from me, a small smile on his face. "I meant it to sound like nothing."

"I've listened to a lot of empty vampire voices, and there's flavor even to the emptiness."

"I was a fool to tell her in a public place, but she pressed me, asked me, and I told the truth." He looked at me then, and I had to fight to meet his gaze, not because of vampire powers, but because the bruises looked painful, and I knew somehow, weirdly, they were my fault.

"Did you really tell Meng Die that you dumped her because you thought I'd turned you down because of her?"

"Not in those words, but yes."

I sighed, and shook my head. "Oh, Requiem. I mean I didn't think she'd take it this badly"--I motioned at some of his injuries--"but her pride wouldn't let her take it lying down."

"Pride," he nodded, then stopped in midmotion as if it had hurt. "She has much pride, and I seem to have none." He looked at me, and emotion filled his eyes, his face, and the emotion was too strong for me to keep looking into his face.

"Don't," I whispered.

He slid to the ground, went to his knees. He made a small involuntary sound. It must have hurt. He took my hand, and I let him, because pulling away seemed petty. "What must I do to be in your bed, Anita? Tell me, and I will do it."

I looked into his face, saw the pain there, and it wasn't the pain of bruises and cuts. I looked at Jean-Claude. "It's the ardeur, isn't it?"

"I fear so," he said.

I turned back to the vampire kneeling in front of me. I had no idea what to say.

"Am I ugly to you?" he asked.

"No," and I traced the line of his uninjured cheek. "You are very handsome, and you know it."

He shook his head, stopped in midmotion, again as if it hurt. "If I were handsome enough, you would have taken me to your bed and not turned to these strangers." He lowered his head, both hands gripping mine. He finally raised his face, and he was crying. "Please, Anita, please, do not cast me aside so easily. I know that you did not enjoy the attentions I gave you as much as I enjoyed the touch of your body. But I will be better, I swear it, if only you will give me another chance to show you pleasure. I was trying to be too careful of you. I did not understand. I can do better, be better." He buried his face against my legs, and wept.

"I believe we have our answer, ma petite."

I stroked Requiem's hair, and didn't know what he was talking about. I was too stunned to think. "Answer to what?" I asked.

"The effect you have on vampires that have tasted the ardeur before. I think you are addictive, as Belle was addictive." He motioned toward Requiem, who was clutching at me, still weeping into my legs. "He is powerful enough to be a Master of a City, ma petite, not powerful in the way of Augustine, or myself, but powerful. He lacks not power, but ambition. He does not wish to rule."

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