WHEN LONDON'S PULSE had slowed, he sat me down, gently, on the bed, and asked Jean-Claude's permission to use the bathroom for cleaning up. Jean-Claude gave it. London had taken his pants off the rest of the way, so that he was nude from the waist down, though his dress shirt and suit jacket were long enough that they hid him from behind. He held his shirt up in front to keep it out of the mess, and his pants wadded in his other hand. He looked at no one as he went inside, and closed the door behind him.
He left behind him a silence so loud that I could hear the blood in my own head.
I knew that the vampires could be so still it was like they weren't there, but it was the first time I'd realized that the lycanthropes had their own version of stillness. Of course, there were fewer people in the room than we started with. It was almost as if people had fled before things got bad. Some bodyguards.
Though, admittedly, I didn't look around too much, to see who was left in the corners of the room. Maybe they were all there, huddled around each other, trying to keep the big bad succubus from getting them.
Jean-Claude moved first, and it was as if the pause on a television program had been turned off. He moved, and everyone else breathed, moved. Voices broke into a low murmur. Jean-Claude helped Requiem stand, from where he had apparently fallen on the floor. He must have left the bed sometime during London's and my little... feeding. Even in my own head, I heard, So that's what they're calling it these days.
Requiem gripped Jean-Claude's arm tight. He spoke low, urgently, as if he had something important to say.
"Damian's coming." Nathaniel's voice turned me to look at him. Micah was helping him climb onto the bed. Nathaniel lay down beside me, his lavender eyes blinking at the ceiling as if he was still having trouble focusing. He was right about Damian. I could feel him coming down the corridor from the coffin room where he'd spent his day asleep. It would take him a few minutes to get here, so I turned to Nathaniel. "Don't ever do that again."
"Try to save Damian?" He tried to make a joke of it, and I wouldn't let him.
I touched his face. "Don't joke, Nathaniel."
He snuggled his cheek against my hand. "You saved us."
My throat was tight, and I'd be damned if I'd cry again today. "It was a near thing, and you know it."
Micah put a hand on both our shoulders. He gripped us tight, as if he were fighting an urge to shake us. His face said how scared he'd been, more clearly than any words.
Requiem gathered his cloak from the floor, wrapped it around himself, and went for the door. He never looked back. Maybe he understood finally that he wasn't food. I hoped so, because I needed less complication in my life, not more.
Remus went to Jean-Claude. He stood very straight and started a salute, then stopped himself in midmotion, like an old habit come back to haunt. The voice he used was one of those hardy, soldier voices. "Request permission to get me and my men out of here."
Jean-Claude looked at him, his head to one side, like Remus had done something more interesting than I was seeing. "And what if we need protecting, Remus?"
Remus shook his head. "We can't protect you from this, sir."
Jean-Claude looked behind him, closer to the fireplace. I was still lying down, so I couldn't see what he was looking at. "I think some of your men would disagree, Remus. I think several of them would have been more than happy to help protect ma petite, in these circumstances." His voice was mild as butter as he said it.
Remus's jaw tightened so hard that it looked painful. His voice came out strained, as if he were gritting his teeth. "I don't believe that that was what our Oba had in mind when he let you hire us, sir."
"Perhaps you should ask Narcissus what your rules of engagement are, Remus," Jean-Claude said.
Remus gave one curt nod. "I'll do that, sir, but with permission, can I get my men the hell out of here?"
I watched the thought travel across Jean-Claude's face, that he might say no. But that it was that clear to read meant he was doing it for Remus to see. "Go, and take the men with you who wish to leave."
Remus shook his head, hands in fists at his side. "No, sir, I am in command here, and I say we all go."
Jean-Claude looked around the room, as if memorizing faces. He finally nodded. "Go, and take your men, Remus. I will speak with Narcissus."
Remus looked uncertain then, but shook his head again. "I'm not saying that Narcissus wouldn't enjoy the show, sir, but I think if the detail included this kind of thing, he wouldn't have sent ex-military and ex-cops to you." He stared as hard as he could at Jean-Claude's shoulder. I realized that Remus was avoiding the vampire's gaze. "If Narcissus wanted our duties"--he seemed to search for words--"expanded, he has other... men to send."
"But not all the men in the room are hyena, Remus," Jean-Claude said. "Do you speak for Raphael's rats as well?"
"I am in command until relieved, so yes, yes, sir, I do."
Another voice came from the far wall, male, and deep, but I couldn't place it, at first. Pepito walked into view. "I'm Raphael's man, and I agree with Remus." Pepito was a large unshakable man, but he looked shaken now. Positively pale, he was. What had they felt when the ardeur moved through the room testing them for yumminess? Whatever they had felt, it had scared both Pepito and Remus badly. Or maybe offended them? Maybe.
"Then, by all means, go," Jean-Claude said, and he made a sweeping gesture toward the door.
Remus headed for the door, but he didn't go through it. He opened it, and held it. Pepito motioned to the men farther back in the room. I would have had to sit up to see past the headboard, and I wasn't sure I wanted to see. I started to tug at the sheets. For some reason I wanted a little covering as the guards trailed out.
Micah pulled the sheets up and covered most of me and Nathaniel. Micah stayed kneeling by us on the bed, while the bodyguards trooped out. I fought two opposing instincts. I wanted to hide under the sheet, so no one would see me, and I wouldn't have to meet anyone's eyes. But I knew if I did that I'd never be able to look any of them in the face again. I did the only thing I could do; I glared at them. A defiant front was all the hope I had to maintain any level of control or respect from any of them. Yeah, it had been an emergency and I had had to feed the ardeur. Technically, the guards understood that. But in reality, as Remus had said, most of them were ex-military or ex-cops. Which meant a woman was always working uphill with them anyway. They'd seen me have sex with one man, and once the story got around it would be more. The really weird thing about the rumors would be that some of the men who had actually witnessed everything would be convinced that I'd had sex with more men. I'd be lucky if some of them didn't claim they themselves had had sex with me. I'd had rumors start after crime scenes where I'd done nothing sexual. This had not been nothing.
Most of the guards seemed as eager to avoid eye contact as I was. But not everyone. I glared most of them down, but a few gave me bold eyes. The kind of look you don't want to see outside a strip club. The look that said you'd gone from a human being to just being tits and ass. I tried to remember who looked at me that way, so I could keep them away from me later.
Micah leaned over Nathaniel and me, whispering, "I see them." He was memorizing faces, too. Good, because I was still shaky, and didn't trust my own eyes to hold the right faces in the right places.
I always have trouble holding a glare when I'm more na**d than the rest of the room. Nathaniel cuddled against me, under the sheet. He brought one arm free of the covers, so he could lay his bare arm across my covered waist. He rubbed his chin along the side of my breast, dragging the sheet down so that I had to hold it in place. I looked at him, ready to tell him to watch it, but the look on his face stopped the words before they could start.
He was staring at the men, too, but he wasn't glaring. His face held heat, and the promise of sex, but over it all was possessiveness. That look that a man gets when another man encroaches on his "woman." Nathaniel, who shared better than any man in my life, was marking his territory. That dark, possessive look never wavered from the parade of men. He rested the side of his chin against the mound of my breast, making it clear that he had a right to be there, like that, with me, and they did not. I didn't think Nathaniel would grasp the problem, but he had.
There was a holdup at the door, a confusion of movement, like a traffic jam. I saw the flash of blood-red hair, and expected it to be Damian on his own power, but it wasn't. Richard came through the door, his arm around Damian's waist, the vampire's arm over his shoulder. Damian leaned so heavily on him that Richard half-dragged him toward the bed.