I turned around to look for Noel and Travis. They were standing near the far door, as if they weren't sure what to do. I couldn't blame them for that, but it wasn't them I was sensing.
I turned the other way, toward the far hallway, where Richard was still standing. But it wasn't Richard who was making my skin creep with power. Haven stalked down the hallway, human again, nude, and beautiful. In truth he was a little thin for my tastes, but it wasn't truly the washboard abs, or the slender hips, the long graceful legs, or even the swelling of promise between those legs, but his beauty as a whole that drew me. If he'd been unattractive, would I have felt the same about him walking toward me? Would I have been able to resist walking toward him, if he hadn't looked so damn cute?
My view was suddenly blocked by Travis and Noel. Of all the men in the room that might interfere, they hadn't been on my list. Travis's soft face was utterly serious as he said, "Our Rex said that you weren't supposed to touch him again before you'd fed on one of us."
I could feel Haven behind them, moving closer. "Move, Travis," I said.
He shook his head. Noel's eyes were wide behind his glasses, but he added, "Joseph wants you to feed the ardeur, or give us your lion, before you touch him again."
I knew he was close before Haven loomed over the two shorter men. I guess he loomed over me, too, but he wasn't going to move me out of his way.
His blue eyes stared down at me with a look that was almost frantic. I felt it too, an almost overwhelming need to touch him. What was wrong with me? My hand started to lift up, to try to move between Noel and Travis, so I could touch Haven's bare chest. I wanted, needed, to touch his skin. The look on his face said he felt the same. What the hell was happening now?
Noel and Travis moved closer together and stepped forward at the same time, bumping me, forcing me back a few inches. Farther away from the man at their backs.
I didn't want to be farther away, and neither did Haven. He tried to grab them by the collars, but they must have felt it coming, because they threw themselves forward, on top of me, bringing us all to the ground.
"Get off me," I said.
But I didn't have to worry; Haven reached down and grabbed Travis. Suddenly, Travis wasn't on top of me anymore. He was airborne, and hit the wall with a sharp, brittle sound, and I knew a bone had broken somewhere in his body. That fixed it, whatever the hell was wrong; I could think again.
Haven reached down for Noel, and I wrapped my arms and legs around him, tight, so if the big werelion threw him, he'd have to throw us both. It was the only thing I could think of in a split second.
He grabbed a handful of Noel's curls, jerked his neck back at a horrible angle.
I yelled, "Let him go!"
Haven snarled at me, and came to one knee beside us. "I am your lion, can't you feel it?"
I could, but that didn't give him the right to break Noel's neck, which was what was going to happen if he didn't stop pulling his head back. I couldn't draw my gun; it was trapped under Noel's body. If I let go of him, I was afraid of what Haven would do to him.
I slid one hand through Noel's hair, until I touched Haven's hand. The moment we touched, energy shot through my body as if I'd touched a live wire. So much energy that I cried out in pain. Noel echoed me, getting the backlash of it. Haven threw his head back and roared, a coughing, harsh sound out of his human throat.
He looked down at me with eyes that had gone lion gold. "Oh, God, yes, yes!"
I was shaking my head. I whispered, "No, no."
Auggie tried ordering Haven away from us, but it didn't do a damn thing. Octavius was a pain in the ass, but he'd been right about one thing: Haven didn't belong to Auggie anymore. He might not be mine completely, but he was no longer Auggie's.
Richard loomed up over us. "You want him moved?" His voice was low and careful, his face full of a dark eagerness. I knew that look; it was my look, the look when you want a fight. Want to hurt something, because it's simple, and you can stop thinking.
I said, "Yes." I said yes, with Haven's energy running through my body like a warm, hurtful blanket.
Richard said, "Thank you." I wasn't sure what he was thanking me for, but he knelt down beside us. He was on one knee, facing Haven. He wrapped his hand around the other man's wrist, where it was trying to pull Noel's head backward. The pressure eased on Noel's hair, and his head began to lower. Haven's hand shook with the effort to pull Noel's head backward, but Richard pushed his hand down. It was a struggle, and slow, but it was like an arm-wrestling match when one person is simply the stronger of the two. The match wasn't over, but one arm against one arm, Richard was the stronger man. He just was.
But Haven was one thing that Richard was not, a professional thug. He did two things simultaneously. He released Noel's hair, and he tried to hit Richard with his other hand. That fist going over us was a blink of the eye, too fast to see, more just an awareness of air moving, and the afterimage. Richard saw it, because when the fist tried to land on his face, he wasn't there to take the blow. He rolled backward, and pulled Haven with him, with one hand on the other man's wrist. Haven's own momentum made him fall forward, and Richard did a move that I'd showed him ages ago. His sport was karate, mine was judo. But if it had been me trying for the tomenage throw, I'd have failed. Because Haven was half-collapsed on Richard's legs, not high enough above the ground, unless you had the strength to plant your feet in the man's stomach and lift with your legs. I would have just ended with Haven on top of me, not an improvement in a fight, but Richard pushed him skyward and was strong enough to keep the momentum going.
Haven flew across the room and hit the fireplace. Richard had time to stand before the other man got to his knees, then charged him. The fight was on.
THE FIGHT ROLLED over the couch, and vanished from sight for a minute.
Noel shivered on top of me, and it wasn't pleasure. "Are you hurt?" I asked.
His voice was breathy from pain or fear. I didn't know him well enough to guess which. "Anita, you're about to pick an animal to call."
I patted the top of his curls, gently. "You're not thinking clearly, Noel." I started to try to sit up, but he wrapped himself around me. Not pinning me, but making it so sitting up would be an effort.
Richard was the one who staggered back from the couch, blood spattering his face. Haven got to his feet like he was on springs, and they squared off. Both of them went down into fighting stances that said that Haven knew some kind of martial art, too. Not good.
"Let me up, Noel."
He raised his face, so I could see how frightened his eyes were behind his glasses. "You are about to have another animal to call."
"Nathaniel is my animal to call."
"He's your animal for Damian and you, but Richard is your animal with Jean-Claude."
Richard and Haven were circling in the bare area just in front of the far hallway. They feinted with legs and hands, but they weren't fighting. They were getting the measure of each other. Once they had it, the fight would get serious. I didn't want that.
Noel gripped my arms, turned my attention back to him. "Joseph thinks that something about the vampire marks is giving you an animal to call to match each of your beasts."
"That's not possible."
"Everything you do is impossible, Anita. My Rex thinks it is possible. He hopes that if you feed from more than one lion, your power won't bond to any one person."
Travis collapsed to his knees beside us, blocking my view of the growing fight. He was cradling his arm tight against his chest. The side of his head was bleeding into his brown-gold curls. "But if you do have to bond to a lion, Joseph would prefer that the strongest preternatural power in his territory not bond itself to a lion who would try to take over his pride."
It seemed stupid having this conversation flat on my back with a nearly perfect stranger on top of me, but I couldn't figure out how to sit up without getting rough with Noel, and Haven had been rough enough. "Why did Joseph send you to me?"
Travis shrugged, and winced, his shoulders hunching around his arm. "Our first task is to keep you from bonding with blue-boy over there. Whatever it takes, to stop that from happening."
I looked at them both. "You're kids. You don't want to be bound to my life, to me, forever. You don't want that, you can't want that."
"I'm only five years younger than you," Travis said. "Hell, I'm two years older than Nathaniel."