I said out loud, "I'm here."
He whispered through my head, "You do not need to say it. I can read it off the tip of your mind, so loudly do you think it. You are not pregnant."
I fought the urge to bounce in my seat, but managed to say, "Yes, yes."
I felt him smile. "I am very happy that you are so happy about it. You feel light, as if you could fly."
It was how I felt, so I just agreed with him.
Richard's thread of warmth trailed through my mind. But he spoke out loud, to both me and Jean-Claude, "Will you please stop this while I'm trapped in the car with it?"
Jean-Claude's voice seemed to grow, so that it filled both of us. "We will talk later about these glad tidings." Then he was gone.
I turned in the seat so I could see Richard's face. "Why did that bother you?"
"I don't want him crawling in my head right now."
Noel's voice came from the back. "I can't study if power is crawling all over my skin, sorry."
I looked at Claudia. "Did you feel it, too?"
She fought it, then finally shivered. "I can usually tell when you are using the triumvirate, but it does seem more powerful today." She tried to rub her hands on her arms, but with the three of them squished in the seat there really wasn't room to finish the movement. But she made her point.
"Okay," I said, and turned to face front.
Micah offered his hand over the middle of the seat, and I took it. His hand was warm, but not too warm, in mine. He was trying not to up the power level in the car. I'd had small versions of the ardeur rise while I was driving?ot good, not good at all.
I held his hand, and tried not to have my delirious relief bring my power up, and cause his beast to rise for me. Our beasts could flow in and out of each other, but that would be bad right now, so I tried to hold on to my shields, and not let happiness break them down. I knew that sorrow, and anger, could cause my concentration to break, but I'd never realized that happiness could do it, too.
I controlled my happiness all the way to the Circus. The long, stone stairs flew by under my feet. Jean-Claude met me in the living room, and I bounced into his arms, wrapping my arms and legs around him. I kissed him long and deep, and only when we came up for air did I realize that we had company.
Augustine sat on the love seat draped in a black silk shawl that left the tops of his bare shoulders like pale islands peeking out. His yellow curls were in disarray, as if all he'd done was run his fingers through them. He was wearing the bottoms of black silk pajamas that were too long for him. It seemed wrong to call such a muscular man winsome, but that was the word that came to mind. I looked at him, and I felt something similar to what I'd felt when I looked at Jean-Claude. It didn't have the depth and richness that my feelings for Jean-Claude, or Micah, or even Richard had, but it was that first burst of love when lust has worn away a little, and you realize that you still like someone. That it wasn't just lust, but something deeper. I stood there, staring at Auggie, and thought that it sounded like a good idea to wake up some morning beside him when he looked all sleep tousled and winsome. I was in love with him. I should have been terrified, or angry, but I wasn't. It wasn't vampire powers that made me stay calm about it. Maybe we could fix this, the way we'd fixed Requiem's attraction to me. There were options. We could work around it. I wasn't pregnant; we could work around anything else.
I turned back to look at Jean-Claude. I hadn't even noticed the brush of the black satin shirt underneath my hands. The shirt was untucked over black jeans. He had very few jeans. He usually only wore them if he suspected he'd be ruining the clothes, or he was trying to portray himself as accessible in some media event. His feet were bare, the flesh only a little less white than the carpet.
"Ma petite," he said again, and this time the nickname made me look back to his face. His hair was a careful fall of curls--his version of casual. "How do you feel when you look upon Augustine?"
I started to look back at the other vampire, but Jean-Claude caught my arm, turned me to look at him. "Answer before you look back, ma petite."
"I think it sounds like a really good idea to have him wake up beside me all tousled and half naked."
"Is it merely lust?"
I shook my head. "No, no, it's the beginning of the real deal. It's love, not just lust."
"You do not sound upset."
I smiled at him. "I'm not pregnant, we can work around everything else. I mean, isn't this similar to what I did to Requiem with the ardeur? If I can free him, then shouldn't a Master of the City be able to free me?"
"Jean-Claude, how do you feel about Augustine?" This from Richard, who had come to stand just behind us.
"I see him as lovely, but strangely, I am not in love with him. He is not in love with me. I had hoped that meant the worst, or best, had not happened, but..." He looked beyond us to Augustine.
I looked with him. I noticed that from this distance Auggie's charcoal-gray eyes looked almost black.
"Do you need to ask how do I feel about your human servant?" he asked.
"It is all I can do to stay here on this seat. I want to touch her, to hold her. If my heart could beat, it would break."
"Why should your heart break?" I asked, and was surprised at how ordinary I sounded, even felt.
"Because you belong to another, and I love you."
I took a step forward, and Jean-Claude's fingers began to let me go. Richard grabbed my other arm. "No, Anita, don't go to him."
"Why not?" I asked, looking up into those brown eyes.
He started to say several things, but finally said the only thing that was really true. "Because I don't want you to."
That stopped me more surely than any anger could have. I was left staring up at him, watching the pain on his face, and not knowing what to do about it. "Why is sharing me with Auggie different than sharing me with all the rest."
"You don't love the rest."
I started to smile, stopped, then said, "Who don't I love?"
He let me go then, as if my skin had suddenly gotten hot. "I'll go get changed for the ballet." He actually started for the far hallway.
"It is a little early to change, mon ami."
Richard shook his head. "I can't watch this, I just can't."
"What do you think is going to happen, Richard?" I asked.
He answered without turning around. "You're going to have sex with him again. Maybe you and Jean-Claude." He shook his head again. "It was bad enough to feel some of it, I don't want to watch."
"I'm in love with him, Richard, that doesn't mean we're going to f**k. You, of all people, should know that just because someone has my heart doesn't mean they have my body."
That stopped him, just at the far doorway. He turned around, looked at me. "You don't feel compelled to f**k him?"
I shook my head.
"I am losing my touch," Auggie said.
It made me turn and waste a smile on him. My smile made him smile, that goofy smile that you only do when you're truly gone on someone. "You haven't lost anything, and you know it."
He made a gesture that was half bow, and half shrug. He managed to look modest, but not like he really meant it. "If I have lost nothing, and you do not fear what we feel for each other, then come to me, Anita."
"You come to me," I said.
He grinned at me, wide enough to flash fangs, which was rare for a vampire his age. He stood up, the shawl still covering most of him.
"Master, do not go to her." Octavius, his human servant, came around the side of the love seat. The werelion Pierce came with him. I think they meant to outflank him and keep him from touching me. He stood in front of Auggie, blocking our view of each other. "You are the Master of the City of Chicago, you go to no woman. They come to you."
Auggie moved Octavius to one side, gently but firmly. "I don't think this one will." He looked at me, half-smiling. "Will you come to me?"
"Why should I?"
He grinned again. "I don't know if it's my own power backfiring, but I see what you saw in her, Jean-Claude. An ambitious target for love, and I would think harmful to the ego, but worth the effort, oh, yes, worth the effort." He pushed past his men, flinging the shawl into the air, so that he was suddenly nude from the waist up. The sight of him like that pushed my pulse up into my throat. I remembered what it was like to be held down by that body, what it was like to hold all that muscled strength in my arms. I took a step forward, and I think we would have met in the middle of the room, but I suddenly smelled sun-warmed grass, felt heat, lion. I smelled lion.