I used both hands to drag him half over the couch back, and give him the kiss he deserved. I licked, kissed, ate, at his mouth, as if the taste of him were a drug, and I needed a fix. He fell into that kiss, and spilled over the couch, on top of me, and into everyone's laps. He rose from the kiss, laughing, the worry erased from his eyes. We ended up laughing together in a big pile. Not just Micah and me, but Nathaniel, and Auggie with his big, fang-flashing laugh. Jean-Claude's laughter spilled over us all, like something thick and sweet that you should be able to lick off your skin. The sensation of it made me catch my breath. Micah shivered above me. Nathaniel's hand grabbed my arm, and Micah's, his fingers convulsing against our skin. Auggie's hand tightened almost painfully on my leg. I couldn't see him past Micah's body, but I could feel his body reacting to that touchable laugh.
It wasn't just Auggie's body that reacted. His power flared from his hand, and the warmth of his lap, through the silk jammies, and my jeans. I felt his body like heat through the cloth. That heat found the ardeur curled inside my body. Auggie called it, and like a well-trained dog, it followed his power.
Micah whispered, "Oh, God." I think he would have rolled off and fled for safety, but Nathaniel's arm tightened on us both, and Auggie's other hand pressed into his back. He wasn't trapped, but with the ardeur, willpower is so hard to come by that small things can tip the balance.
Jean-Claude's power pulsed to life against me, but it wasn't his ardeur that rose. The cool power of the grave spread out from his body like cool, soothing water to quench the heat that Auggie had awakened. Jean-Claude's power spilled through me, over me, and spread. It spread to Micah, so that his eyes lost their panic. Nathaniel's hands began to relax in their desperate hold on our bodies. Auggie's breath came out in a long, shaking sigh.
"That was very bad of you, Augustine," Jean-Claude said in a voice that was thicker than normal with his French accent. Which meant he'd had to work harder at stopping the ardeur than that easy flow of power had led us to believe.
Micah half-collapsed on top of me, his head burying against my shoulder, so that I could suddenly see Auggie's grinning face. He was totally unrepentant. "Jean-Claude, can you truly blame me with all this bounty writhing on my lap?" He slapped Micah's ass.
Micah rolled off the couch, and took me with him, because I let him. We ended on the floor close to Nathaniel. Micah and I stood, drawing Nathaniel to his feet. We moved back from the couch, so the three of us faced the vampires, faces no longer friendly. I'd shut both vampires out of my head, because I wasn't sure how to shut Auggie out without shutting Jean-Claude off, too. I just didn't have the finer points of metaphysics down yet.
"I may not blame you, but they will," Jean-Claude said, and he sounded almost satisfied. I got just a flash of why: he was pleased that Auggie was falling into the same traps that once had been his own downfall. Then he shut the link between us, shut it tight, as if he didn't want me to know what else he was thinking. Fine with me; I had my own reasons for not wanting to share.
There had been a second, just a second, when the ardeur rising while all four of them were touching me hadn't seemed like a bad idea. Micah, Nathaniel, and Jean-Claude were one thing, but Auggie had rolled me. Yeah, I was in love with him, too, but it was because of vampire wiles. Auggie had trapped me into love, and that should be punished, not rewarded. Richard would probably say that I was pretty good at punishing true love, so love by deceit should carry a higher penalty, shouldn't it?
"I don't know you," Micah said, "and you don't get to touch me."
Auggie spread his hands wide, and made a how-was-I-to-know gesture. "My deepest apologies, but if people keep falling into my lap, I'm allowed to take a little advantage."
"No," I said, "you're not."
He narrowed those charcoal-gray eyes at me. "I love you, Anita. Do you love me?"
I almost said no, but knew he'd smell the lie. I shrugged. "Yeah, thanks to your power, yeah, I do." I shrugged again. "But what has that got to do with anything?"
"Most women who love me don't act this angry. Most women in love are generous to their lovers."
"In sex, I'm generous; everything else, you gotta work for it."
Auggie looked at Jean-Claude. "She tastes of the truth."
Jean-Claude nodded. "Ma petite is a demanding lover in every way."
"Usually when a man says a woman is a demanding lover, it's a good thing, but somehow I don't think that's what you mean," Auggie said.
Jean-Claude gave me a smile, that smile that was only for me, and sometimes for Asher. The smile said he loved me, and I had to smile back. I felt my face soften, and the anger fade. I wasn't angry at Jean-Claude. I had finally gotten better at not spreading my anger over everyone. "Ma petite and I have labored long together to form the love that you have gained by subterfuge." He turned and looked at Auggie. "I was your friend, but you have used your arts to make me feel for you what you have not earned. But I, like ma petite, know how to love and not be a prisoner to that love. You can win, or steal, our love, but you cannot steal a true relationship with us; that must be won." He turned, and curled his long legs up on the couch. He put his arm across the back of the couch, not quite touching the other man's bare shoulder. He cradled his head on his outstretched arm, letting all those black curls spill along the white of the couch. I couldn't see his face, but I knew the look. It was a charming, seductive look, his teasing look, when he really didn't expect anything to happen. He just wanted to remind you how scrumptious he was. He usually used the look only when he was mad, or I was. It was a look to either end a fight, or begin one.
Auggie looked at him, and the look was pained. He saw Jean-Claude, understood the potential in that body, and knew now that having had it once didn't mean you'd get it again. Jean-Claude played hard to get when he thought it would gain him an advantage. The look on Auggie's face said it was a really big advantage right now.
If it was real love, true love, then shouldn't it have made me feel bad to see Auggie wanting, hurting with doubt? Maybe, but it didn't. It made me happy, in that small, petty, vindictive way that always promises a really bad relationship. There are different kinds of love, I'd learned that--not less real, or more real, just different. Maybe what Auggie could cause a person to feel wasn't true love, after all. Maybe it was that kind of love that seems to come quick, and leave slow, but in the middle it's just fights, and pain, punctuated by great sex, until one of you has the courage to end it, and walk away.
Auggie turned that pained expression my way. "You would both turn me down." He sounded genuinely surprised. He glanced back at Jean-Claude. "I understand Jean-Claude, he's maneuvering for power, though my pride is hurt. I must not be as good with other men as I thought I was."
Jean-Claude answered with his head still poised on his arm. "If I feed your ego now, then I may lose the advantage I have gained."
Auggie nodded. "I understand that." He looked at me. "But her, I don't get her. I know I'm good with women. Hell, I'm an amazing lover."
I laughed, I couldn't help it.
He gave me a dirty look. "Do you disagree?"
I shook my head. "No, you're great." I didn't sound like I meant it, but I did. "Maybe I just like my men a little more modest, that's all."
He stabbed a thumb at Jean-Claude. "If he's ever been modest about his prowess in bed, it was false modesty."
"Why, thank you," Jean-Claude said.
Auggie shook his head. "That's not what I meant."
"What did you mean?" I asked.
"That he doesn't have a modest bone in his body."
I actually didn't agree with that, but Auggie didn't deserve the explanation that went with it, so I let it lie. "You're entitled to your opinion."
"Which means you don't agree with me," Auggie said.
"It means what I said."
Auggie shifted his gaze to Micah. He looked at him, looked at him the way that men usually reserve for women. Like he was wondering what Micah would look like without his clothes.
"Here I stand all naked, and you're not even looking at me," Nathaniel said. "Should I be insulted?" He moved a few steps ahead of Micah, tossing all that heavy auburn hair over his shoulders, so his body was framed by it. He stood there and gazed at the vampire. He gazed at him from those lavender eyes, with that beautiful body.