Tears trailed from his eyes, faintly pink with blood like all vampire tears. He rolled his head back so he could see me. "I wanted to hide it from you, but I never could hide it."
"Hide what?" I asked, and my voice sounded almost afraid.
"How good the ardeur feels. Belle said once that she'd never known anyone who fed the ardeur as well as I did, or addicted to it as quickly." The laughter faded from his eyes, leaving them desolate. From such joy, to such loss, in a blink of his eyes.
"Are you addicted once more, mon ami?" Jean-Claude asked.
He turned his head to look at Jean-Claude. "I do not know for certain, but most likely, oui, I am." He sounded neither happy nor sad about it. He was almost matter-of-fact.
"God, London, I'm sorry," I said.
Damian tried to sit up, but Nathaniel and I had to help him, so that he was propped up between us. "I'm sorry, as well."
London curled himself on the bed so he was lying on his side, and could see us. "Don't be sorry, I feel better than I've felt in centuries." He closed his eyes, and drew a shivering breath. "I feel so warm, so... alive."
I remembered when the ardeur was searching for food, how he'd hit the radar. So powerful, but more than that. "The ardeur recognized you as the tasty power in the room. Is it because you were addicted to it once?"
"Requiem was addicted once," London said. "Did he seem tasty, too?"
"Not as yummy as you, no."
"Belle said that my power is to feed the ardeur. To use a modernism, I am a battery for it."
"If you are such a good feed, then why doesn't Damian feel better?" Nathaniel asked.
"I did not mean to, but I think I drank a great deal of the energy myself. It was like being lost in the desert for years, and suddenly seeing a river, running cool and deep. My skin soaked it up, I couldn't stop it. I kept most of the energy, and I'm sorry for that."
"No you're not," Nathaniel said, his voice soft, but certain.
London laughed, an abrupt, happy sound. "You're right, I'm not. I knew it would be enough energy to keep Damian alive, and beyond that I didn't care." He curled all that tall, strong frame into a ball, and looked at me with a face more uncertain than anything I'd ever seen from London. "I am at your mercy. I tried to hide how much it meant to me, but I cannot. I could never hide it from Belle either. She tortured me with it." He gazed up at me with those lost eyes, and said, "Will you torture me, Anita? Will you make me beg for another taste?"
My pulse was suddenly in my throat, not from passion, but from fear. The proud, scary London was curled on a bed staring up at me with a look I'd only seen in Nathaniel's eyes. I knew that look. It said, You can do anything you want to do, just keep me. I'll do anything you want, just keep me.
Ronnie had always been able to find men to have a nice uncomplicated f**k with. Me, I seemed to be running a home for amazingly complicated men. As for a nice uncomplicated f**k, I wouldn't have known one if it bit me on the ass.
BY TWO FORTY-FIVE we were in a maternity room at St. John's hospital. If I'd been further along someone might have called it a birthing room, but not in front of me, not if they wanted to live. To say that I was not happy to be there was an understatement of amazingly gigantic proportions.
Dr. North had taken one look at the crowd with me, and managed a private room for the exam. Or maybe he'd known me well enough to arrange it ahead of time. The room had pink flowered wallpaper, and all the furniture tried to be homey, or at least to pretend we were in a nice hotel. All except the bed. The bed was nicer than most, but it still had railings, and one of those trays on wheels at the foot of it. It was still a hospital bed no matter how dolled-up the surroundings might be.
I wasn't lying in the bed. I was pacing the room, because we were waiting for the blood test results. We'd find out in minutes just how bad the news was going to be.
Micah was in a chair in the corner, staying out of my way. Smart man. We had two werelions with us, one standing quietly against a wall, and the other in the room's only other chair, reading. Joseph had shown up with six werelions for me to choose from. Joseph seriously didn't like Haven, Auggie's lion, and was hoping I'd pick other, less dominant lions to play with. Okay by me. But how do you choose from relative strangers? How do you choose the ones who will at the very least let you change them, violently, into their animal forms. How do you trust that they won't fight you?
Joseph assured me and Jean-Claude, "I picked submissives, as I discussed with Jean-Claude. I think they'll be like Nathaniel was for you once, for the ardeur."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I'd asked.
"I think you'll be able to feed the ardeur from them without full sexual contact. If I understand how the ardeur works, it's only dominance and power that keeps you from feeding from a kiss."
"That's the theory," I said.
They all seemed soft and unfinished and too fragile for my life, but I chose two of them. Travis and Noel; blondish and brunette respectively. Travis was a business major and Noel an English major. Noel wore glasses and had a test Monday. He'd brought books to study. Travis just brought himself.
Noel was reading for his test and ignoring everything around him. Travis was watching everything with those pale brown eyes of his. He watched the way cops watch, as if he were memorizing everything. He seemed particularly interested in Richard.
My bodyguard shift had changed over, so Claudia and Lisandro were in the far corner near the door, doing that bodyguard casual that was almost a slump, but not quite. If either of them had ever been military or police, it never showed. They were just bad-asses, and that was enough. There were two more guards outside the room, by the door, which Dr. North had objected to, but Claudia had looked at him hard, and he'd okayed it. One of the guards outside the door was Graham, the other a werehyena that I didn't know. Ixion was his name, though he said it like he hated it, and hadn't had it long. Narcissus had more fun than he should have, passing out names to some of his new men. Ixion was so ex-military that he still had the haircut, and looked uncomfortable in civilian clothes.
We didn't really need four bodyguards, but it was the only way Claudia could see to get us a wolf who would shift for me at the hospital if I needed it, without letting Richard know that none of us trusted him to take my beast in an emergency. Graham was my wolf in the hole, so to speak, and Ixion got to come along because Claudia preferred all the guards to be in pairs. If we were pretending, we had to make it good pretend.
"You're going to wear yourself out, Anita," Richard said.
"Then I'll wear myself out," I snapped, and knew that I snapped, and didn't have nerves left to care.
He pushed away from the wall, and walked toward me. He reached out, as if he'd hug me, or comfort me.
"Don't," I said, and kept walking until the window made me stop and turn around.
"I just want to help, Anita," he said.
"Pacing helps," I said, not looking at him. Why couldn't he understand that I just wanted to be left the f**k alone? Micah understood it. Nathaniel had wanted to come, but shapeshifting so early had exhausted him. Once you hit animal form you usually spend between six and eight hours in it; if you shift back early it comes with a price. If he was going to be any good tonight he needed rest. I'd left him tucked in with Damian, so they could both feel better before nightfall.
Richard touched my shoulder as I went past. I jerked away from him and kept on walking. If we could have figured out a way to bring Damian with me, we would have. He helped me be calm, and I needed it. But vampires do not travel well in daylight.
"If you don't calm down," Richard said, "you may call your beast. You don't want that, not here."
I stopped and glared at him. "It would take care of the problem though, wouldn't it?"
"You don't mean that," he said.
"The hell I don't."
"Ulfric." It was Travis, from his corner of the wall.
Richard turned to him.
"Ulfric, she's burning off her nervous energy by pacing."
"I know that," Richard said in a less than friendly voice.
"If you make her stop pacing, then where will the energy go?"
Richard opened his mouth, shut it, and nodded. "You've made your point. I guess it's making me nervous to watch her pace."
"Then don't watch," Travis said, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.