I smiled, then laughed. “Well, you are fabulous, but I think your ego is pretty secure in this area.”
“You guys are just going to change the subject, aren’t you?”
“Boys,” she said, and rolled her eyes.
“Hey, last I checked I’m a girl.”
She grinned, eyes shining with that mischievous light that made me think so much of Jason. “Well, I have checked and yes, yes, you are a girl, most delightfully so.”
I blushed again, and raised my hands as if that would hide it.
“Oh, yay, I made you blush twice!”
I glared at her, but couldn’t keep the hard look going as she grinned at me, then Jason joined her, and the two of them undid me. I had to smile back.
“Damn it, you can both do that.”
“Do what?” she asked.
“Make her smile when she doesn’t want to,” Jason said.
“We must use this power only for good, or when it’s fun,” she said.
I grinned and rolled my eyes at both of them.
“I hate to bring up something that won’t make you smile, but I leave tomorrow and you need to settle this.”
“Jade. You have the right to say no to her, Anita. If you’ve said no to men who are tied to you metaphysically, then why are you having so much trouble saying no to her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it because she’s a girl?”
“I don’t know is the only answer I have, J.J.”
“Okay, let me ask you this: How do you feel about having to date Jade for the rest of your life?”
“Not great,” I said.
“She’s pushing you to actually date her, take her out, and make her more of your life. How do you feel about that?”
“I don’t want to do it.”
“Then don’t,” J.J. said.
I looked at her, opened my mouth, closed it, and then just lay there. I didn’t know what to think, let alone feel.
Jason kissed my forehead, then rose up so he could study my face as he said, “Anita, it’s okay, you don’t have to date people you don’t want to date.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re not the one they’re always pushing at, demanding more from. You don’t see how they look at me, the accusations, and the recriminations when I do pull away. They all want a piece of me, and there isn’t enough of me for all of them.”
“You said that a few weeks ago when I first asked you to help me explain things to J.J.”
“It’s still true,” I said.
“Everyone has ex-lovers, Anita,” J.J. said.
“You don’t understand, J.J.; you can send your ex-lovers away. You move out, or they do, and you don’t see them again. You get some distance and maybe you can be friends on down the road, but you need a little distance to get there. Every time I reject a lover they’re still here. Not just in town but living in the Circus of the Damned; hell, Damian has an apartment over my garage at my house.”
“Why in the world did you let him move in like that?” she asked.
“Because he’s my vampire to call, and keeping your servants near you helps increase your power base.”
“And you felt guilty about not loving him more,” Jason said.
I gave him a dirty look. “Don’t help me.”
“Hey, it’s the truth, and you know it.”
“If you broke Jade free of her bonds to her old master, and freed others from theirs, could you break Damian free?”
“Every time I try to cut my ties with him and Nathaniel they start to die; Damian went crazy and attacked people. Jean-Claude almost had to put him down like a dangerous animal.”
“Okay, then that would be a no,” J.J. said, with wide eyes; she pulled the sheet more up over her, as if suddenly cold.
I grabbed a piece of sheet from her and pulled it over me, too, because it was cold, or maybe the conversation was making me feel cold, who could tell.
“But what worked with everyone else was that you broke the bonds with their old master and replaced that master with you. What if you broke Damian’s bonds with you and replaced yourself with another vampire?”
“He’s tied to Nathaniel, too, remember? We’d have to cut Nathaniel free, too. I’ve never heard of anyone doing anything that metaphysically complex with these kinds of vampire marks.”
“Has anyone ever tried?” J.J. asked.
“No, because if it goes wrong, you can break the sanity of your people, or kill them outright, which is a pretty damn big incentive to not mess with shit.”
“Okay, okay, it was just a thought,” J.J. said.
“I’m sorry, I’m not mad at you, just the situation, I think.”
“But Damian has Cardinale, and they seem pretty happy together,” Jason said.
“She’s asked for Damian to not be on my feeding list for the ardeur, and I’ve respected that.”
“But would he have found Cardinale if you had been having sex with him as often as you did with Nathaniel?” Jason asked.
“If I’d been sleeping with him and Nathaniel like that, there wouldn’t have been room for Micah.”
“You mean in the bed?” J.J. asked.
“Or in your life?” Jason asked.
I frowned at both of them. “You know, the two of you are enough alike that’s it’s a little unnerving.”
“You feel double-teamed?” he asked.
“Didn’t we already do that?” J.J. asked, face and voice mild.
I rolled eyes at them again. I got the idea that being around them would entail a lot of that for me. I didn’t really mind.
“Now why didn’t that get another blush?” she asked.
“No idea, my blushing is sort of unpredictable.”
She fake-pouted at me.
Nathaniel came back into the room, his wet hair in a tight braid. He slipped under the sheets. “What did I miss?”
Jason and J.J. looked at each other. I said, “We don’t have to tell him, I can just drop shields and he’ll know what I know.”
J.J. looked at me. “Really?”
“Really,” I said.
Nathaniel said, “Can I cuddle in behind J.J., or do we need to switch things around?”
J.J. got an odd look on her face, and laughed. “I know we just had amazing sex, but I’d really rather cuddle with Jason.”
“That’s why I asked; sometimes sex is less intimate than holding afterward.”
I wiggled over and J.J. got on the other side of me, so that she and Jason could spoon, and Nathaniel and I did the same about three feet away. Nathaniel wrapped his arm around me and pressed our bodies close. It had felt good for Jason to hold me, but this felt better; it was the difference between friends and more. “So, what did I miss?” he asked.
I shivered for him, just a little bit, and then let down my shields just enough and thought about the last few minutes. He didn’t get the actual words, but he knew what I’d learned in the last few minutes, as if he’d been there the whole time. We’d all been getting better at sharing without overwhelming each other. Once I couldn’t have done this without blasting him with emotions, memories, all of it, but now I could just share knowledge, and let him, or Micah, or Jean-Claude, put their own emotions and thoughts on it without me coloring it much.
Nathaniel snuggled in closer against me. “I’m so glad you were willing to be closer to me than you were to Damian.” He kissed the side of my face, and then lower at the curve of my jaw, working down to my neck in soft, warm kisses.
“I saw Anita close her eyes, almost fluttery like during sex, and now you just know, that quickly?” J.J. asked.
“Yes,” Nathaniel said, and made another kiss lower on my neck.
“What did I tell her about Jade?”
He rose up from kissing me to say, “That Jade isn’t the girl for her, and she should dump her.”
“I never said it like that.”
“But that’s how Anita interpreted it, and I got her version of the last few minutes.”
“Wow, that’s just . . . eerie, useful, but a little . . . I don’t know, not creepy, but disturbing.”
“Sweetums,” Jason said, kissing her cheek, “that wasn’t even on the scale of our version of creepy.”