"Pussy-whipped is what I heard," Auggie said. "His wife wouldn't tolerate sharing."
"You know, Auggie, almost everything coming out of your mouth is just digging the hole deeper."
"What does that mean?"
"You're on her shit list," Micah said, "and you keep digging yourself a deeper pile of shit." He actually smiled.
"What are you smiling at?" Auggie asked.
"I thought you might be a threat to our domestic arrangement, but you won't be able to behave yourself long enough to be a threat to any other man in Anita's life."
"Jean-Claude has already invited me down to sample the wares again."
"Sample the wares," I said, "what the f**k does that mean? Am I wares, things to be sampled? I don't f**king think so."
"See," Micah said, "you keep this up and you won't ever get the ardeur again."
Jean-Claude joined us. "You are being exceptionally careless with your words, Augustine. It isn't like you to be so impolitic."
"He's scared," Nathaniel said. He came in behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist, pressing his nakedness against my back. I didn't have to see his face to know the look. It was a look he'd only recently worn around me. Possessive, it said, mine, it said. I'll share, but it's mine. He usually only brought the look out when someone was behaving badly, or he didn't like them. I think we were all agreed on what we thought of Auggie. He was such bad news.
"Afraid of what, pu**ycat?" Auggie asked, disdain thick in his voice.
"Wanting Anita as badly as you do," Nathaniel said.
The comment made me tense, but he pressed himself even closer, and I relaxed against him. He rested his face touching mine, so we probably looked like one of those posed engagement shots. Auggie was right about one thing; Nathaniel could play games when he wanted to. He played less and less as he got more comfortable with his life, and himself, but he hadn't forgotten how to play.
"You don't like wanting anyone that much. You see it as a weakness," Nathaniel said, "and you're beginning to realize just how hard to deal with Anita can be."
I turned and looked at him, forcing him to move his head enough for us to make eye contact. "Do you find me difficult?"
He grinned. "I like being dominated."
I started to say how hard I'd worked to ensure that he wasn't dominated, then realized what the grin meant. He was teasing me. I tried to glare at him, but I wasn't serious enough for it to work.
"Do not let your unease be your undoing in this, Augustine," Jean-Claude said.
"What's that mean?" he asked.
"It means that if you continue to say and do such things to ma petite, then I will not be able to offer you the ardeur from her."
Auggie had a moment where something flashed through his eyes. For just a second I would have said it was fear. "Maybe I am being stupid, but I came to her looking for a Julianna and what I found is Belle."
Jean-Claude's face went very still. "Why would you say that?"
"I only saw you love two women in nearly six centuries, Jean-Claude. You don't choose to love Belle Morte, she chooses it for you. You chose to love Julianna. I thought, if you had finally fallen in love again, that it would be someone like her. I thought that the tough talk, and the danger, were just surface. I thought if I scratched deep enough that Anita would be more like the only other human I ever saw you love." Auggie shook his head. "You've got a physical type you like, petite brunettes, but beyond that"?e shook his head again--"Jesus, Jean-Claude, sweet Jesus, don't you ever have anything in a woman's personality that you like every time?"
"Did you come here thinking that if you pushed ma petite hard enough she would crack open and be gentle and feminine in the way of Julianna?"
"It wasn't just you, Jean-Claude, but Asher, too. He never seemed to have a physical type, but personality; he liked gentle, laughing, comfortable women. Belle used to accuse him of being addicted to peasants, when it came to women."
"And you reasoned that if one woman had kept both of us happy, she must meet the criteria for both of us."
"Logical," Jean-Claude said. "Wrong, but logical. I had forgotten that about you."
"That you tried to make of love and emotions something logical, something that could be understood."
Auggie frowned at him. "You're making fun of me."
Jean-Claude shook his head. "No, but I would remind you that Asher went on his own and found Julianna. I loved her with all my heart and soul, but she was not of my choosing. I came to love her, but I did not begin to love her."
"So I've got faulty data."
"If you like," Jean-Claude said.
Auggie looked at me, with Nathaniel still wrapped around me. "Micah's right. I think like a lion. I don't see Nathaniel as a problem, because he's submissive. I do feel the need to prove myself more dominant than the other dominants in your bed. But, damn, there are a lot of them."
I shrugged, holding Nathaniel's arms like you'd keep a shawl from spilling down your arms. "Is that why you tried to grab Micah, and why you stared at him like he was some kind of hooker?"
Auggie shrugged. "Maybe."
"I don't dig the macho shit, Auggie. Flex your dominance on your own time, not on mine."
Auggie pointed behind us, turning us all to look at Noel. He was still on all fours waiting to be noticed. "You say your local Rex doesn't run his pride the way most do."
"He doesn't," Micah said.
"His lion is reacting like he knows the rules."
"Joseph's pride know how to be lions. They just don't do that whole Serengeti-plains-dominance-fight at each kill," Micah said.
"That's what it means to be a lion," Auggie said.
"Actually," I said, "lions native to forested regions don't do that. The fluidity of dominance, and the complicated social system, seem peculiar to the African plains region."
Auggie gave me a look.
I actually felt myself beginning to blush, and fought it off. Nathaniel hugged me. "Smart girls are so sexy," he whispered.
I managed to say, "I have a degree in biology, and I did research on the various animal forms once the coalition got going."
Auggie gave an abrupt laugh. "I've been dealing with lions for thousands of years, and I've never picked up a book about them."
I just stared at him. "How could you not want to learn as much about them as you could?"
"I live with lions, I don't need to read about them."
"I live with vampires, and raise zombies damn near every night, but I still read my trade publication, and keep abreast of the articles on all the undead." I shook my head at the level of arrogance he was admitting to. The really scary part was that he didn't see it as arrogance.
I couldn't deal with Auggie anymore. I still felt the pull of his power, but it was just love. I could fight against love. Richard and Jean-Claude had given me lots of practice doing that.
I patted Nathaniel's arm. He kissed me on the cheek and let me go. I went to where Noel was waiting on the floor. "Get up, Noel."
He got up, eyes flicking behind me toward Auggie. It made me glance back, but the vampire actually wasn't doing anything but looking at him. I touched Noel's shoulder, turning him so he couldn't see Auggie. "What's up, Noel?"
"Travis and I need to talk to you." He tried to glance back at Auggie. I touched his arm, kept him from doing it.
"Fine, we'll talk." I started toward the couch. I herded Noel with me. Micah and Nathaniel came at our backs. I wasn't sure if they wanted to hear everything, or were covering my back in case Auggie decided to get all weird again.
Requiem was sitting beside Travis. He had a hand on the man's forehead. "He is going into shock."
I knelt in front of Travis. His face was gray-tinged. "Jesus, Travis, shift and heal this."
He gave a small, tight shake of his head. His voice was tight, but breathy. "Give me your beast, make me change."
"My beast is fine where it is, Travis."
"You need to feed the ardeur on one of us, or give us your beast, Anita, please."
I looked into his pain-filled face. "Do you really want to have metaphysical sex while you have a broken arm?"