"You had to be in your late twenties by then," Micah said.
He laughed. "I wasn't twenty; I was already dead by the time I met him." With that he went into the bathroom and did a few minutes of blow-drying with a diffuser, so it wouldn't damage his curls. He was already wearing five keep-in hair care products to tame the nearly waist-length curls. Without all the product, his hair would almost do the white man's 'fro like mine and Micah's.
Micah turned to me while we listened to the blow-dryer. "Did you know that Asher was his first man?"
"Yes," Nathaniel mumbled sleepily, sliding off Micah's thigh so he could bury himself deeper into the covers, between us.
Jean-Claude came back out with his hair mostly dry and his curls laid in careful disarray. He got a short velvet jacket out of the wardrobe and pulled the white lace of his sleeves through, so it spilled out of the end of the jacket sleeves in a graceful fall around his slender, strong hands. He stopped in front of the full-length mirror in the corner, settling the open lace of the collar out over the black velvet of the jacket so that it lay just so and the cameo had pride of place at his neck. I knew he liked the necklace, but he was wearing it tonight for me, so I could see it on his neck. It was one of the moments when I began to understand why he wanted me to wear his ring.
He stalked toward the bed in the new boots and the rest looking like someone's wet dream, or maybe it was just my wet dream. Either way it made me smile as he came to the edge of the bed and kissed Micah first, and then had to climb up on the bed to lean past him to kiss Nathaniel, who drew a bare arm out of the covers to wrap around Jean-Claude and draw him down to the bed across Micah's lap.
"Non, mon chaton, I must go to work."
"Stay," Nathaniel said in a sleepy, happy voice that had made me late for work more than once.
Jean-Claude laughed, and Micah helped him get free by putting himself in the way of the entwining arms of our shared boy. Jean-Claude got to knees and hands and leaned across the men to kiss me. We'd just started pressing into the kiss, my hand on the edge of his face to help steady myself, when arms came up around us both and tried to drag us down to the bed. We opened our eyes to find Nathaniel doing his sleepy, teasing best to pull us down to the bed. I let him pull me close, but Jean-Claude pulled away laughing and slipped gracefully off the bed.
"I will come back and allow you to pull me into your warm nest after my meeting, but it will not be a short meeting, so sleep and I will wake you when I return."
Nathaniel made sleepy, happy noises and curled back under the covers. Micah called out to Jean-Claude as he went for the door. "We may try to talk to Melanie tonight in between shows."
Jean-Claude looked back with his hand on the door. "Remember that Melanie is thousands of years old and has never been human. It makes her arrogant, among other things."
"We'll take security with us," Micah said.
"You have little choice in that, with the new security regimen." Jean-Claude said it like he wasn't entirely happy with it either. "But I was not thinking of that. You wish information from Melanie, if she has it to share. I was merely reminding you that she might not respond to your questions in the way you expect. If you wish to learn what she knows, you must keep her uniqueness in mind."
"I've dealt with her before. She didn't seem that different for questioning," I said.
"She was still trapped as the animal to call of a vampire and was not the master of herself as she is now."
I thought about that for a second or two. "Point taken."
"I would ask you to wait until I can help you question her, since I have more experience dealing with her day to day, but I know you are both too impatient to wait, so I will not ask it of you."
"Sorry, but you're right," I said.
"I did not doubt I was right, ma petite, and now I truly must go. This has been a wonderful respite, and I go forth to this tedious but necessary meeting with renewed vigor and enthusiasm." He blew us kisses and left.
I looked at Micah across the bed. "Do you feel full of renewed vigor and enthusiasm?" I asked.
He thought about it for a moment and then smiled. "I do, actually."
That made me smile. "Good, me, too."
Nathaniel reached up and tried to pull us both down into his nest of covers. "Stop sitting up and lie down with me."
"We're going to go talk to Melanie and see if she knows anything to help the shapeshifters in Florida," I said.
That made him blink awake. "I thought I dreamed that part."
"No," Micah said.
"I'll come with you." He sat up, wiping his hand across his eyes.
"You enjoy your postcoital nap; we'll come back and join you after we talk to her," I said.
He shook his head. "When's the last time you talked to Melanie?"
"Years, like right after we killed her master and Jean-Claude gave her the job."
"I've talked to her a lot more than that. I'll come help you talk to her."
"Why are you and Jean-Claude both so worried about us talking to her?"
"Not worried, just the two of you are too blunt sometimes; you have to sweet-talk Melanie."
"Are you friends with her?" I asked.
"No, but we used to be fuck buddies."
That made both Micah and me stare at him.
"What? Why the looks from both of you?" Nathaniel asked.
"I don't know," I said. "I just remember her as unpleasant. I mean, she did try to kill me."
"Weren't you trying to kill her, too?"
"Not technically, but since she was his animal to call, me killing her master could have killed her."
Nathaniel shook his head and started crawling out of the covers. "You'll treat her like a suspect and that will get you nowhere."
"How long ago were you and she fuck buddies?" Micah asked.
"Four or five years ago." He crawled off the bed and went to the wardrobe for some of the clothes that we all left there.
"So, before you started dating Anita."
"Before I was even Anita's pomme de sang. I was a good little apple of blood and treated it like the relationship I was hoping it would turn into." He pulled out a pair of black jeans and a matching T-shirt.
We were both still in the bed watching him. I wasn't sure why, but knowing that he'd slept with Melanie bothered me. I knew he'd slept with a lot of people, but this one bugged me.
He stopped with the jeans on, the shirt still in his hands, and looked at us. "What is wrong? Melanie is a beautiful woman and I didn't belong to anyone back then, so I could fuck who I wanted, and I did."
"I know," I said, "but Melanie, I mean . . ."
"Is it because she's a lamia?" he asked.
I thought about that for a moment. Was that my issue? I hoped not, because that would be shitty and racially horrible. Would it make me a racist or a species-ist? "I don't think that's what's bothering me. I think I just find her creepy, and she tried to kill me and damn near succeeded, and she can turn human men into these half-snake creepy things, so the thought of willingly having sex with her sort of creeps me."
"Fair enough," he said, as he slid the T-shirt over his head.
"I think it's the first time you've said you were lovers with someone that tried to kill one of us. I think that's what's bothering me."
"Jean-Claude gave her a job at the Circus. I figured if he trusted her enough to get her a green card, then she was trustworthy enough to date. I'm saying date, because both of you seem to tense up every time I say we were fuck buddies."
"Sorry, but the level of casual really bothers me," I said.
"It doesn't bother you, Anita; it confuses you," he said.
"Now, are the two of you going to get dressed so we can question Melanie, or can I get undressed and climb back into bed, because I would way rather cuddle up for a post-sex nap."
"It sounds better to me, too," I said.
"And me, but I wa
nt to know if Melanie knows anything that can help us," Micah said.
"Then get dressed, but I'll warn you that once we've talked to her I may be so wide-awake that I'll need more sex before I can nap again."
"Oh darn," I said.
"I think we can manage that," Micah said, smiling.
"So, get up and get dressed, so we can come back and get undressed and fuck like bunnies."
Micah and I both laughed out loud at the phrasing and the look on Nathaniel's face that went with it. We'd question the lamia and then we'd come back and fuck like bunnies.
I TEXTED NICKY and Micah texted Bram to let them know we were going to be on the move soon. We also let them know that Nathaniel was going to be with us, so they could bodyguard appropriately.
Nicky was showered, changed, and ready at the door for us. He'd brought Rodina and Ru along, looking like smaller, freckled shadows of each other. They looked delicate standing next to Nicky, and since they were both inches taller than me, I must have looked tiny beside him. Rodina and Ru looked like they were in their late teens--twenty would be stretching it--but they were centuries older than Jean-Claude and had once been personal guards to the Mother of All Darkness, the Evil Queen of the old vampire council, though R and R were the only two of the Harlequin I'd ever heard call her that as if it were her title. They thought I was their new evil queen since I'd killed their old one. I wasn't sure about the evil part, but I'd stopped arguing that I was the heir to the power of Mommy Darkest. To the victor go the spoils and all that shit.
"Bram is en route," Nicky said, and he was every bit the bodyguard in charge of my safety; the man who had kissed me so passionately in the bedroom was gone until he wasn't on the job again.