"You want me to sleep with Requiem?"
"I want you to feed the ardeur from him, oui."
"I thought you weren't happy sharing me with so many men. I mean, you once threatened to kill Richard."
"I did not understand the nature of our power together then. Perhaps there is more than one reason that Belle collected lovers. Perhaps it was not merely her appetite, but more practical."
I stared at him, feeling the weight of his hand over mine, and Requiem gone very still under our hands. "I can't meet all his needs, Jean-Claude. I can't add another date to my card."
"It is not a date he needs, ma petite. He needs to be your food. Food is for eating, not for dating."
"Yeah, that's what I said about Nathaniel for months. It doesn't work like that, not for me."
"What do you propose, ma petite? Until we know the extent of your power over other vampires, we must be very careful of our visitors. We must surround you with powerful enough food that the ardeur will not keep drawing more."
"Why isn't your ardeur drawing in people?"
"You are his human servant," Elinore said, "you're taking some of the edge off his power."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"If Jean-Claude didn't have you, then his ardeur would be doing this, and it would make it hard to run his territory. Your attracting people is less distracting to him."
I looked at him. "Are you doing this on purpose?"
"I swear that I am not."
"It's the nature of the power, Anita," Elinore said. "Human servants, animals to call, pommes de sang, they are all instruments to help their masters grow in power and control. The power will find a place to go and feed that allows the Master of the City to rule better."
"You make the power sound alive, like it can think for itself," I said.
She shrugged. "Perhaps it can. I know that I have seen the power work like this with other masters. Not the ardeur, but other powers."
I sighed. "Great, so I'm the ardeur's pinup girl because Jean-Claude would get too distracted if it were him."
"Yes," she said.
"Wait, Belle had the full ardeur, more full than we have now."
"But she had no human servant, and no animal to call," Elinore said.
I looked at Jean-Claude. "I thought every master called in help."
"Belle does not share power," Jean-Claude said, "not with anyone."
"But you guys gain a lot of power from human servants and animals to call."
"She has intimates of her animals to call, but she has not chosen among them. She makes no one special to her," he said.
"I don't seem to be able to choose who I get as animal to call. I know you chose Richard, but I didn't exactly choose Nathaniel."
"Nor Haven," Jean-Claude said.
"Haven is not my animal to call," I said.
"But some lion will be, and soon, I fear," Jean-Claude said. "Joseph is bringing some of his lionmen around today so you will have more than our guests to choose from."
"Choose for what?" and I sounded as suspicious as I felt.
"So you may bring their beasts, and hold off the change."
That made sense. So many metaphysical problems that it was hard to keep track sometimes. But one problem at a time. I looked at the man in my lap.
"Fine, whatever. What am I going to do with you, Requiem?"
Jean-Claude and I moved our hands, and he raised his face, so he could look at me. "Make me your pomme de sang."
"I think the pomme de sang needs to be someone who can feed me night or day," I said.
His face filled with panic. "Please, Anita, do not cast me aside."
I looked at Jean-Claude. "A little help here."
"If you will not feed the ardeur from him then we must send him to another territory. He is powerful enough that many will want him as third, or even second."
"Which will weaken your power base, because Elinore is only staying until we find her her own territory," I said.
He gave a shrug that meant everything and nothing.
"I cannot believe that my"--and I hesitated because boyfriend seemed too junior high, lover not enough--"the man I love is encouraging me to take another lover."
He smiled at me. "We know now that any who have tasted Belle's ardeur are susceptible to your ardeur. I think any of her line will be too risky to taste as pommes. Agree to feed the ardeur from Requiem, ma petite, that is all. Agree, because we have two more things to know before the party tonight."
"What two things?"
"Will you draw and be drawn to all leopards, wolves, and lions? Do the ardeur's effects travel outside Belle's line?"
I looked at Jean-Claude, tried to read past his face. "You're still shielding so hard, I can't tell how you really feel about this. Let me see inside your shields."
He shook his head. "I think it would be no help to you."
"Because part of me is happy our powers are growing, no matter what the cost. Part of me is frightened of what the council may do about it. Do I want you to take another lover? No, but do I prefer that it is you whom the ardeur hunts to this degree, and not me, yes. I am sorry, ma petite, but that is the truth."
I thought about it, then nodded. "If you have a human servant who can't hold her shit together the other masters may forgive you. Like a bad marriage, not your fault. If you can't hold your shit together, they won't let that pass."
"Please, Anita," Requiem said, "please, feed the ardeur upon me, please."
The look on his face was amazing, so joyous even through all the bruises. The look scared me. No one but your nearest and dearest should ever look at you like that.
"But not right now," I said.
Some of the joy faded. "Why not now? It is morning. You have slept."
I nodded. "Yeah, usually that does raise the ardeur." I looked at Jean-Claude. "That's a good question, why don't I feel all ardeurish?"
"I, too, am well fed."
"You feasted last night," Requiem said, "on Augustine and his people."
I looked back at Jean-Claude. "Is he right? Was it such a powerful meal that we're safe for longer?"
"You don't sound convinced."
"The ardeur is not always a predictable power, ma petite. I would need more than one feeding of such magnitude before I agreed that that was the reason."
"Or perhaps," Elinore said, "you should be trying to figure out how powerful a meal you would need to abate the ardeur. You cannot feast on another Master of the City and his people every night." She leaned forward in her chair, all lace and satin, but strangely, she didn't look cute. She looked too intent for words like cute. "Perhaps what is needed is permanent food of high power."
"Few masters would agree to become Anita's, or my, permanent pomme de sang. Not if they are powerful enough to rule a territory of their own."
"What if they have no choice in the matter?" she said, indicating Requiem.
"Are you suggesting that I purposefully trap other masters the way I accidentally trapped Requiem?" I asked.
"It would solve a great many problems," she said.
"It would be"--I groped for a word--"evil."
"I thought you were more pragmatic than this, Anita."
"Doing that would be no different than if we gave in to the requests we get weekly for you to join some other master's kiss, as his mistress. We give you room to choose, Elinore. How can you ask us to take that same choice away from someone else?"
"I would not be bespelled, Anita. I would know every night as he touched me, lay on top of me, that I hated him. Requiem adores you, and he will adore you until, and if, he falls in love, true love. Until that time he will be in the bed of someone he adores, having amazing sex, and enjoying every minute of it. It is not the same thing, Anita. Trust me on that."
"But it's sort of a metaphysical date-rape drug, used like that. Just because you're enjoying the abuse doesn't make it not abuse."
"Does it not, ma petite?"
I shook my head. "It's too late for Requiem, I'll accept that. I'll try feeding the ardeur on him."
He kissed my hand. "Thank you, mistress."