"Not mistress," I said, "Anita, just Anita."
"Thank you, Anita," he said, and kissed my hand again.
"Get up off the floor, Requiem, please."
He stood. "I would like very much to sit beside you."
I sighed, and nodded.
He sat on the other side of me from Jean-Claude, except that he sat close enough that his legs touched me. Great, just creepy, great.
I looked at his chest where the blades had come so close to taking his life. "What are we going to do about Meng Die? She's just proven herself too dangerous, and so not a team player."
"Kill her," Elinore said.
I looked at Jean-Claude.
"I would rather find another solution, but yes, it may come to that."
"You are overly sentimental, Jean-Claude, just because you feel guilty that you stole her mortal life. It is a great gift, not a curse."
"I feel as I feel, Elinore."
"Have a care that your feelings do not get us all killed." She looked at me. "Also, I think if Anita truly is going to be a panwere..."
"News travels fast," I said, looking at Jean-Claude.
"I wished an opinion of someone powerful enough to have an opinion."
I wanted to argue, but I couldn't. She was the most powerful vamp in his group right now. Her waking first had proven that.
"As I was saying, if Anita is truly going to be a panwere, then it may not simply be lions, wolves, and leopards that she attracts. It may be all wereanimals, or many. Almost all the visiting masters have brought their animal to call, so we must test this theory before she is allowed near them. Augustine I believe will let the insult go, because he is besotted with you both, and he attacked you first. The breach of protocol was on his side, not ours. But if Anita entices others away from their masters, they may not be so forgiving."
"Agreed," Jean-Claude said, "and we still must see how master vampires outside Belle's bloodline react to Anita's ardeur."
"And where are we going to get master-level vamps and other wereanimals to test these little theories on?" I asked.
There was a knock on the door. "It's Remus, Jean-Claude."
Remus entered, closing the door behind him. He was actually looking directly at us, and he was angry, which I guess explained the direct look. "I told you if there were any more that I wouldn't let them in without me and my guards coming in here."
"I remember," Jean-Claude said.
"I said any other vampire, but definitely these two are not coming in here without you having bodyguards on this side of the door."
"What two?" I asked.
"Wicked and Truth are out here," Remus said.
"Wicked and Truth," Elinore said, "how interesting. They are very powerful, and they are not of Belle's line."
I shook my head. "Truth already got a taste of the ardeur when I bound him to Jean-Claude. He's not following me around like this." I jerked my thumb at Requiem.
"Did you actually feed from Truth?" she asked.
"No," I said.
"Then you must try."
"No," I said.
"At least suggest it to them," she said.
"No," I said, and put more heat into the word.
"They have sworn loyalty to Jean-Claude. They are not leaving us," Elinore said.
"No," I said, "absolutely no."
"Very well, then perhaps not feed, but watch you feed," Jean-Claude said.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"Samuel watched you feed and was not drawn to you, or me, that strongly. But Haven was drawn so that his companions had to drag him away, almost as they did Augustine. Perhaps if Wicked and Truth are simply in the room when you feed, that would tell us if the effect will go outside Belle's line, or no."
"We would need someone from Belle's line to be in the room too, someone close in power." I looked at Elinore.
She smiled, "I am in love, Anita, true love. It does not work on me."
"Some types of ardeur work anyway," I said.
"For a brief time, yes, but my being in love makes me unusable for the test."
There was another knock on the door. Remus opened it, murmured to someone, then turned back. He didn't look directly at us again. "London is out here, too. He's Belle Morte's line, isn't he?"
"Yes," Elinore said, "he is."
"So what, I feed the ardeur, and then they tell us how attracted they are to it?"
"It is a way of testing without impinging too far upon your morals," Elinore said.
"Just have sex in a room while a bunch of men watch, right?"
Jean-Claude shook his head and smiled. "Simply feed the ardeur, ma petite. It does not have to be sex, if you do not wish it."
"It seems a shame to raise the ardeur on purpose when I'm not hungry," I said.
He sighed. "Yes, it does, but it is far better to raise it now, when we can control it, than later, when visitors have arrived, and we cannot."
Put that way, it made sense, but... "Who do I feed from?" I asked.
He gestured to Requiem. "The damage is already done to him."
"Great, now I'm damage," I said.
"And feeding from blood as powerful as yours will help him speed his healing."
That was true, but... "Fine, but only if you explain the parameters of the experiment to everyone. They have to agree to it, or I won't do it."
"Of course, ma petite, I would not have it any other way." I looked into that beautiful, unreadable face, and was almost a hundred percent certain he was lying.
EVERYONE AGREED TO the test. Everyone seemed happier about it than I did. Okay, everyone but Remus and some of his guards. I think that was because he was pretty sure it was going to go horribly wrong and he and his people would have to pick up the pieces. I agreed with Remus.
Part of me hopes that someday I get over being so damned uncomfortable about group scenes like this; part of me hopes I don't. It's sort of the same part of me that mourns that I can kill without feeling bad about it, most of the time. Yeah, that same part thinks that doing metaphysical sex in front of a bunch of men, for any reason, is just another step down the slippery slope to damnation. But if the alternative is having the ardeur go off like a metaphysical bomb during the party tonight, well, what we were about to do was the lesser evil. Still it might be nice, once in a while, not to have to choose between evils. Just once, couldn't I choose the lesser good?
Requiem lay back against the fresh sheets, his hair spilling out around his upper body like a dark halo. His day job, or would that be night job, was stripping at Guilty Pleasures. The body showed that, but all I could see was the wounds. Meng Die had come very, very close to putting out his light forever. I traced fingertips across the sternum cut. His breath came out in a shuddering sigh. I couldn't tell if it had hurt, or felt good.
Normally I could read Requiem, but today there was nothing in his face that helped me. He gazed up at me as if I were the most wondrous thing he'd ever seen. It was a step above, or below, love. Worship was the only word I had for it. It hurt my heart to see that look on his face. There was no Requiem left in that look.
Requiem of the somber, pretty speeches. He'd earned his name because he was poetic but damned depressing. But there was no force of personality to him now, nothing but this overwhelming need.
"God, help me," I said.
Jean-Claude came to stand next to the bed, to me. "What is wrong, ma petite?"
"Please tell me he'll get better than this," I said.
"Better than what, ma petite?"
"Look at him," I said.
Jean-Claude moved close enough that the sleeve of his robe touched my robed arm. He gazed down at Requiem with me.
Requiem's gaze flickered to him, then settled back on me, as if the other man didn't matter. But he'd noticed him, because he said, "Will you force me to share your favors with another, Anita? Or will I be as the heavens stretched between the heat of the sun and the cold kiss of the moon? Will you do to me as you did to Augustine?"
"Well, at least he's back to being wordy and poetic," I said. "It's a start."
"Did he offer himself to both you and Anita?" Elinore asked, still curled in her chair.
"I believe so," Jean-Claude said.
"Requiem does not embrace men," London said from the far corner. He'd moved to the darkest, most shadowy corner he could find, as he always did. It wasn't just his short dark curls and penchant for black clothing that got him the nickname "the Dark Knight."