"You've slept in the same bed with me, Graham," I called back over my shoulder as I headed for the big door that led underground.
"Sleeping's not what I want," he said.
I stopped at the door, and just turned and stared at him. The other men moved to either side to let me see him better.
Graham looked at me, his eyes peeking through the silky fringe of his overly long bangs. It always made me think of an animal peering at me through the grass. The upper layer hadn't been this long when I met him.
"I do not need your shit tonight, Graham."
"Why are you always mad at me?"
"I am not always mad at you, Graham."
"If you're not mad at me, then why don't you like me better?"
"I don't dislike you, Graham, I just don't want to f**k you. I'm allowed not to f**k you, even though you want to f**k me."
"Don't f**k me then, just feed the ardeur off me. Feed it the way you fed off Nathaniel for months without intercourse."
I shook my head. "I don't want to introduce the passion of the ardeur to someone I'm not keeping. It's cruel."
"The ardeur is the greatest orgasmic experience that any of the vampire lines can give to a mortal." Graham's face was full of such eagerness, his hands reaching out to the air as if he could draw the ardeur out of it, and hug it to him. "I just want to know what it feels like. The real deal, not the little tastes I've had by accident. Why is that wrong, Anita? Why is it wrong to want that?"
"She's afraid you'll become addicted," Micah said, voice soft.
Graham shook his head. "I've never been addicted to anything in my life."
"Lucky you," Nathaniel said.
"Please, Anita, don't go to strangers to feed the ardeur. Don't go to strangers when there are people right here who would do almost anything to feed your need."
I made an exasperated sound, almost a scream of frustration, and went for the door. I opened it and we headed down the stone steps that led down, down, to the actual home of the Master of the City.
The steps were too wide, too something, as if they'd been carved for something that didn't walk on two feet. The stairs were always awkward, which was why I was still in jogging shoes. Micah took my hand anyway, and I let him. If it looked to Graham like I was needing help down the stairs, f**k him, or rather don't. I needed the comfort of touch tonight. Nathaniel stayed on my other side, but didn't try to take my right hand in his. I'd need that hand for the gun or the blade. Yeah, these vamps were supposed to be Jean-Claude's friends. But they weren't my friends, not yet.
We were at the landing just before the stairs took a turn. It was a blind turn, but if you hugged the far wall, you didn't stay blind for long.
"Wait," Graham said, "please, wait. I should go first."
We all turned and watched him walk the few steps down to us. He gave a smile that was almost nervous. "I am the bodyguard, remember?"
I looked him up and down, and said, "Are you carrying?"
He sighed. "No. Richard says we're dangerous enough without guns."
I shook my head. "Not if everyone else has them, Graham. Silver bullets don't let you get close."
He shrugged those massive shoulders. "Richard is Ulfric; if you want to change policy, take it up with him. I'm just doing what I'm told."
I sighed. I loved Richard, really I did, but we had some serious differences of opinion.
Graham eased past us, but stopped on the step below the landing. He looked up, but not like he was happy. "I was hoping that Jean-Claude would have joined us by now."
I gave him a look. "What do you mean, joined us? Jean-Claude is waiting downstairs with our guests, right?"
He shook his head. "There was an emergency upstairs."
"Asher is managing the Circus; he should be able to take care of any emergencies."
Graham licked his lips. "I don't know the details, because I was left down here to wait for you, but Meng Die did something. Something that made Asher call for Jean-Claude to help him."
Meng Die was a petite Chinese doll, or that's what she looked like. But she, like me, didn't really match the packaging. She'd been the second-in-command in San Francisco, before Jean-Claude called in all the vamps he'd made in this country to help bolster his defenses. Her master had been happy to let her go, because she'd been nights away from a palace revolt that would have left him dead and her in charge. In fact, he wouldn't take her back, though Jean-Claude had offered.
Meng Die wanted to be Jean-Claude's second-in-command, but that was Asher's job. Then all the vamps had come from London after their master went crazy and had to be killed. Suddenly Meng Die was just another master vampire in a kiss that was lousy with master vamps. She was powerful enough to be third, or maybe even second, but temperamentally, she wasn't suited to be that close to any throne. Too dangerous. Too ambitious.
"What the hell did she do now?" I asked.
Graham shrugged. "I don't know."
"I thought you were almost her pomme de sang" Nathaniel said.
"I was," he said.
"You don't seem too worried about her."
He shrugged those big shoulders. "She keeps promising to make me, or Clay, her pomme de sang, but she never makes the decision. She was still f**king Requiem, too, until he started turning her down."
"Requiem isn't sharing Meng Die's bed anymore?" I asked.
I frowned. "Did he find a new girlfriend?"
Graham licked his lips again. "Sort of."
"I know that look, Graham, that's your I-have-more-bad-news-and-I-don't-want-to-tell-it look. Spill it, all of it."
He sighed again. "Damn it, if you're not my girlfriend you shouldn't be able to read me that easily."
It was my turn to shrug. "Just tell me."
"Requiem thinks that the reason you've turned him down as your new pomme de sang is because he was f**king Meng Die. He said you're not a woman who shares your men."
I didn't know whether to scream, or curse, or laugh. "Did he tell Meng Die that?" I asked.
"I don't know. He told me. He told Clay."
"Did you tell Meng Die?" I asked.
He shook his head. "I am not that stupid. She takes bad news a hell of a lot worse than you do."
"Is Clay that stupid?" I asked.
"Requiem told her," Micah said, voice soft.
We all looked at him. "You know that?" I asked.
He shook his head. "But it would be something he would do, not to cause trouble, but to be honest with her."
I thought about it, then had to agree. "Damn, he would. I wonder if he told her recently?"
"Did you turn her down?" Nathaniel asked Graham.
He gave the quick grin again. "No. She may not hold the ardeur, but the sex is still amazing. I've done vamps before, but never Belle Morte's bloodline. If Meng Die is an example of what they have to offer in bed, then my new goal in life is to be one of their pommes de sang."
"I thought you wanted to be Anita's pomme," Nathaniel said.
Graham looked a little startled, as if he'd said more than he'd meant to say. "If Anita would feed the ardeur off me, just once, I might never look at another woman, but until she does..." He let the sentence fade, but it summed up why Graham was not a strong contender for me. He didn't really want me, he wanted the ardeur. If any of the other female vamps from London had held the ardeur, he'd have chased them instead of me, or as well as me. Not very flattering--to him, or to me.
"Until I do, you're keeping your options open," I said.
He shrugged. "I gave all my options up for Meng Die, and she kept Clay and Requiem on her string. I shared her with Clay in a way I've never shared anyone." He looked sad for a moment, then it passed. I wasn't sure if it passed because his sorrow was that shallow, or he had pushed it away. "Anita isn't going to give up all of you guys for me. Why should I give up everyone else just for a chance to be in her bed? I mean, just for a chance, not even the certainty of it."
"I didn't ask Requiem to sacrifice his libido to me."
"You never ask anyone to give up other people for you, but if they don't, you don't sleep with them," Graham said.
And that was a little closer to the truth than I wanted to hear. I hadn't asked Requiem to give up Meng Die, but the fact that he was f**king her had been a point against him. Why? One, because I simply did not like her. Two, Graham was right, I didn't share my men. Not with other women. The fact that I then expected them to share me with about half a dozen other men, well... Not fair. Not fair at all.