"There is no shame to that," Elinore said.
"Non," Jean-Claude said, "but I want ma petite to understand that her effect on Requiem is not a small thing."
Elinore had sat back in the chair, curling her legs under her, because her feet wouldn't have reached the ground. "I had no idea she had bespelled him like this."
"I didn't bespell him," I said.
She gave me a look and motioned at the vampire at my feet. "Pick a different word if you like, Anita, but the effect is the same. We can argue semantics, but Requiem is besotted with you in a way most unnatural."
I stroked his hair, so straight and thick, but not warm. He was cool to the touch. "He needs to feed," I said. "Healing is going to take a lot of blood and energy."
"I don't think blood will cure this," Elinore said, and her voice sounded almost accusatory.
"What do you want from me, Elinore? What do you want me to do?"
"Make him your lover," she said.
"I have four men that I'm the only sex they're getting, and two more that are in my bed some of the time. Hell, Jason makes it into my bed about once a month."
"Exactly," Elinore said, "one more will hardly make a difference."
"If it were just sex, maybe, but it's not just sex. It's the emotional stuff. I don't even know if there's enough of me to go around for five men, plus extras. Call me crazy, but I don't think Requiem is a low-needs item." I stroked his hair, felt him shake against my legs. "No, I think he definitely goes in the high-maintenance category. I don't think I have enough emotion left to do another high-needs man, okay? That's the truth. I'm sure he'd be a wonderful lover, but I couldn't meet his other needs."
"What other needs?" she asked.
"Talk, emotion, sharing, love."
Elinore shifted in her chair, turning her head to one side, her long hair spilling around her like a cornsilk dream. "You turned him down as your lover because you don't think you can love him?"
I thought about it for a heartbeat, then shrugged, and nodded. "Yeah, sort of."
Elinore looked at Jean-Claude. "She turned him down because she does not think she could love him."
Jean-Claude gave that graceful shrug. "She is very young."
"Don't talk about me like I'm not sitting here," I said.
Requiem's crying had slowed, so that he was mostly just kneeling with his head in my lap. I kept petting his hair, the way you'd soothe a dog, or a sick child.
"We all understand, Anita, that you are Jean-Claude's consort. We all understand that you and he and Asher are a threesome. We all understand that your triumvirate with the Ulfric and Jean-Claude must be maintained for reasons of power and safety. That maintenance includes sex, because he is of Belle Morte's line. I admit that I thought him a fool, and weak, to have allowed you such closeness with the wereleopards, but I was wrong. Out of that closeness came your own triumvirate, which has strengthened Jean-Claude's powers immensely. Your tie to Damian and Nathaniel is a wondrous thing. Your tie to Micah is a puzzlement, but I understand now that your powers are much like Belle's. She collected men, too."
"I am not like Belle Morte," I said.
"Your power is." She pointed at Requiem. "This is proof of that."
"I don't want to collect men," I said. I stared down at the man in my lap. "I certainly don't want them this... besotted. This a level of wanting that's just wrong."
"Why is it wrong?" Elinore asked.
"Because I don't think he has a choice about it. I didn't mean to collect Requiem."
He looked up then, as if my saying his name had called him. The tears had dried to faint reddish lines on his face. The red didn't help the bruises look any better.
I touched the unhurt side of his face, and he laid his cheek in my hand, as if that one touch were something wonderful. "How do I fix this?" I asked.
"You mean how do you set him free?" Elinore asked.
I stared at her. "What do you mean, I don't?"
"There is no cure, Anita. There is only going far away from you. He will still crave your touch, but he will not be able to act upon it."
"Like an alcoholic," I said.
She nodded. "Yes."
"There is a cure for it," Jean-Claude said.
I looked at him. "What?"
"Love," he said, "true love."
We both stared at him. "True love," Elinore said.
He nodded. "We loved Julianna, and she freed us of the addiction of Belle Morte. Belle Morte had Requiem in her bed before Ligeia ever touched him, but she sent Requiem on a long seduction far away from her. It was necessary to seduce both halves of a noble couple, so she sent Ligeia with him."
"I thought that Requiem's master fled France so Belle wouldn't keep him."
"His master met with an accident, and Belle was able to collect all the vampires of her line that the old master had made."
"The way you say accident makes it sound like you don't mean accident at all," I said.
"It was an accident," Requiem said, softly. He spoke with his face in my lap. "The carriage we were in overturned in a storm. We were on a cliff edge, and somewhere during the fall, a piece of wood went through his heart. It was such an ordinary death." His voice sounded relaxed, distant. "We tried removing the wood, but he did not revive. We learned later that the carriage maker was Wellsley."
"Who's Wellsley?" I asked.
Elinore answered, "He manufactured carriages in London for many years. He was a devout man, and hated the idea of his carriages being used for evil purposes, so he had them blessed. He would make a batch of them and have one of the local clergy bless them. When the blessing is fresh, some of them glow around us."
"The blessing wears off?" I made it a question.
"If enough 'evil' "--and she made quotation marks in the air with her fingers--"happens in the carriage."
"Like a cemetery that's been out of use for a while, or had black magic used in it too much," I said. "You have to reconsecrate the ground."
"The analogy will do," she said.
I looked down at Requiem. "And when your master was dead, Belle could call you to her?"
"Yes," he said, "and if Jean-Claude had not given me a home here, she would have done so again."
"How did you get away from her the second time?"
"Jean-Claude has the right of it. Ligeia and I were sent far away to seduce some nobles Belle wished to control. We did her bidding, and they did what Belle wished, but Ligeia and I fell in love with each other. When we returned to Belle's court, I was no longer drawn to her."
"Love," Jean-Claude said, "love is the only cure."
"You and Asher aren't besotted with me, not like this."
"Jean-Claude is your master, and he holds the ardeur as well. As for Asher"--she looked at Jean-Claude--"I think love protects him."
I looked at Jean-Claude, too, and he would not meet our gaze. I sort of assumed now that Jean-Claude and Asher were doing it like bunnies when I wasn't around, but I'd never asked. Don't ask, don't tell worked just fine for me. Last night, seeing him with Auggie, made me wonder if I needed to ask, or if it was confirmed. Too complicated for me.
I literally waved the thought away, and said, "I can't count on Requiem falling in love any time soon."
"Non, ma petite."
"What do I do?"
"Take him as your lover," Elinore said.
"Easy for you to say; no one's making you share yourself with anyone but your knight."
"And one of the reasons I came to Jean-Claude was that he would let me be with the man I love, and not force me into the beds of others. I am more grateful for that than I can ever say." She turned those cold blue eyes on me. "But I do not carry the ardeur. I am not an addiction."
"Ma petite, you must meet this obligation."
I stared at him. "Obligation?"
"You have addicted him to you. Would you be as cruel as Belle Morte herself and cast him away, with this desire riding him?" He shuddered. "I have been as one addicted, and cast out for some minor infraction. I have felt my body ache for want of her, and no amount of sex with anyone else satisfied that need." He moved so he could lay his hand over mine where I stroked Requiem's hair. "He is my third-in-command. He is a good and honorable man. You need more and more powerful food, ma petite. I think if you feed the ardeur well enough, it will quiet. But until you find food to its liking, it will seek its own."