The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 20~21

20

The hospital room was soft mauve with paintings of flowers on the wall. The bed had a mauve bedspread and pink sheets. Monica lay in the bed hooked up to an IV and two different kinds of monitors. A strap across her belly monitored the contractions. Gratefully, the lines had gone flat. The other monitor was the baby's heartbeat. The sound had scared me at first; too fast, like the heart of a small bird. When the nurses assured me the heartbeat was normal, I relaxed. After nearly two hours, the frantic beat had become a comforting sound like white noise.

Monica's auburn hair was plastered in wet tendrils to her forehead. Her careful makeup was smeared across her face. They had been forced to give her a sedative, though it wasn't great for the baby. She had fallen into a light, almost feverish sleep. Her head turned, eyes flicking behind her lids, mouth working, caught in some dream, a very bad dream probably, after the night she'd had. It was almost two o'clock, and I still had to go to the station and make my statement to Detective Greeley. Catherine was on her way to take my place at Monica's bedside. I'd be glad to see her.

I had little crescent nail marks on my right hand. Monica had clung to it like it was all that was holding her together. At the worst of the contractions, when it looked like Monica would lose her baby as well as her husband, her long, painted nails had bitten into me, and only when blood trickled down my hand in fine crimson lines did a nurse say something. When Monica calmed down, they had insisted on messing with the wounds. They'd used the cartoon bandages they kept for the babies, so that my hand was covered in Mickey Mouse and Goofy.

There was a television on a shelf on the wall, but I hadn't turned it on. The only sounds were the whirr of air circulating through the vents and the baby's heartbeat.

A uniformed cop stood outside the door. If Robert had been killed by a hate group, then Monica and the baby were possible targets. If he'd been killed for personal reasons, Monica might know something. Either way, she was in danger. So they'd put a guard on her. Fine with me, since all I had left was a knife. I was really missing my guns.

The phone on the bedside table rang, and I flung myself out of the chair, scrambling for it, terrified that it would wake Monica. I cupped the receiver against my mouth and spoke quietly while my pulse pounded. "Yes?"

"Anita?" It was Edward.

"How did you know where I was?"

"All that matters is that if I can find you, so can someone else."

"Is the contract still on?"

"Yes."

"Damn. What about the time deadline?"

"Expanded to forty-eight hours."

"Well, shit. Aren't theydetermined."

"I think you should go underground for a while, Anita."

"You mean hide?"

"Yeah."

"I thought you wanted me to be bait."

"If you stay out as bait, we need more bodyguards. The werewolves and vamps are monsters, but they're still amateurs. We're professionals, it's what gives us our edge. I'm good, but I can't be everywhere."

"Like following me into the women's john," I said.

I heard him sigh. "I let you down."

"I was careless, too, Edward."

"So you agree?"

"To hiding? Yeah. You got some place in mind?"

"As a matter of fact, I do."

"I don't like the tone in your voice, Edward."

"It's the most secure place in town and has built-in bodyguards."

"Where?" That one word sounded suspicious even to me.

"Circus of the Damned," he said.

"You have got to be out of your freaking mind."

"It's the Master's daytime retreat, Anita. It's a fortress. Jean-Claude's sealed up the tunnel we came through to get Nikolaos. It's secure."

"You want me to spend the day bedded down with vampires. I don't think so."

"You going back to Richard's house?" Edward asked. "How safe are you going to be there? How safe will you be anywhere above ground?"

"Dammit, Edward."

"I'm right, and you know it."

I wanted to argue, but he was right. The Circus was the most secure place I knew. Hell, the place had dungeons. But the idea of voluntarily sleeping there made my skin crawl. "How can I rest surrounded by vampires, even friendly ones?"

"Jean-Claude's offered you his bed. Before you get mad, he'll sleep in his coffin."

"That's what he says now," I said.

"I'm not worried about your virtue, Anita. I'm worried about keeping you alive. And I'm admitting that I can't keep you safe. I'm good. I'm the best money can buy, but I'm only one person. One person, no matter how good, isn't enough."

That was scary. Edward admitting that he was in over his head. I never thought I'd live to see it. Come to think of it, I almost hadn't.

"Okay, I'll do it, but for how long?"

"You hide out, and I'll check some things. If I don't have to guard you, I can do more."

"How long?"

"A day, maybe two."

"What if whoever it is finds out I'm at the Circus?"

"They might try for you," Edward said. His voice was very matter-of-fact when he said it.

"And if they do?"

"If you, a half dozen vampires, and almost that many werewolves can't handle the action, then I don't think it matters."

"You're just comforting as hell."

"I know you, Anita. If I was any more comforting, you might refuse to hide."

"Twenty-four hours, Edward, then I want another plan. I am not going to hide at the bottom of a hole and wait for people to kill me."

"Agreed. I'll pick you up after you make your statement to the cops."

"Where do you get your information?"

He laughed, but it was harsh. "If I know where you'll be, so does someone else. Might ask your cop friends if they have a spare vest."

"You mean a bulletproof vest?"

"Couldn't hurt."

"Are you trying to scare me?"

"Yes."

"You're doing a good job."

"Thanks. Don't come out of the police station until I come in and get you. Avoid being in the open if you can."

"You really think someone else will try to hit me tonight?"

"We're planning for worst-case scenarios from now on, Anita. No more chances. I'll see you then." He hung up before I could say anything else.

I stood there holding the phone, scared. In all the panic with Monica and her baby, I'd almost forgotten that someone was trying to kill me. Probably not a good thing to forget.

I started to hang the phone up, but dialed Richard's number instead. He answered on the second ring, which meant he'd been waiting up. Damn.

"Richard, it's me."

"Anita, where are you?" His voice sounded relieved, then cautious. "I mean, are you coming back here tonight?"

The answer was no, but not for the reasons he feared. I told him what had happened, the shortest possible version.

"Whose idea was it that you stay with Jean-Claude?" There was a hint of anger in his voice.

"I am not staying with Jean-Claude. I am staying at the Circus."

"And the difference is what?"

"Look, Richard, I am too tired to argue with you about this. Edward suggested it, and you know he likes Jean-Claude even less than you do."

"I doubt that," he said.

"Richard, I did not call you to fight. I called to tell you what's happening."

"I appreciate the call." I'd never heard him sound so sarcastic. "Do you want your clothes?"

"Damn, I hadn't even thought about that."

"I'll bring them to the Circus."

"You don't have to do that, Richard."

"You don't want me to?"

"No, I'd love to have my stuff, and not just the clothes if you get my drift?"

"I'll bring it all."

"Thanks."

"I'll pack a bag for myself."

"Do you think that's a good idea?"

"I've stayed at the Circus before. Remember, I used to be one of Jean-Claude's wolves."

"I remember. Should you ask Jean-Claude's permission before you invite yourself over?"

"I'll phone first. Unless you don't want me there tonight." His voice was very quiet.

"If it's okay with Jean-Claude, it's fine with me. I could use the moral support."

He let out a breath like he'd been holding it. "Great. Great, I'll see you there."

"I have to give a statement to the cops about the incident at Danse Macabre. It could take a couple of hours, so don't rush."

"Afraid Jean-Claude will hurt me?" He was quiet for a moment. "Or are you afraid I'll hurt him?"

I thought about that. "Worried about you."

"Glad to hear it," he said, and I could hear him smile.

The reason I was worried about Richard is he wasn't a killer. Jean-Claude was. Richard might start a fight, but Jean-Claude would finish it. I didn't say any of this out loud. Richard wouldn't have appreciated it.

"I'm looking forward to seeing you tonight," he said.

"Even at the Circus?"

"Anywhere. Love you."

"Love you, too."

We hung up. Neither of us had said good-bye, a Freudian slip, perhaps.

I was betting that Richard and Jean-Claude would find something to fight about, and I was really too tired to mess with it. But if I'd told Richard to stay away, he would have assumed I wanted to be alone with Jean-Claude, which was certainly not true. So they'd have their little fight. Frankly, I had my own fight all picked out, one involving me, Jean-Claude, and Damian. They'd broken the law at Danse Macabre, broken it enough that with the right judge, I might have gotten a warrant of execution on Damian. We could have one great big glorious knock-down, drag-out fight.

I wondered where everybody would sleep, and with who.

21

Circus of the Damned is a combination of traveling carnival, circus, and one of the lower rungs of hell. Out front, fanged clowns dance above the lights that spell the name. Posters stretch the sides of the building, proclaiming, "Watch zombies rise from the grave. See the Lamia--half-snake, half-woman." There is no trickery at the Circus, everything advertised is absolutely real. It is one of the few vampire tourist attractions that welcome children. If I'd had a kid, I wouldn't have brought the little tyke near the place. Even I didn't feel safe.

Edward had picked me up outside the police station, just like he said he would. My statement had taken three hours, not two. The only reason I got out that soon was Bob, Catherine's husband and fellow lawyer, had finally told them to charge me or let me go. Truthfully, I thought they might charge me. But I had three witnesses saying the killing was self-defense, witnesses that I'd never met before tonight. That helped. The DA usually didn't charge on self-defense cases. Usually.

Edward took me into the Circus through a

side door. There were no lights to mark it as special, but there was also no doorknob on the outside of the steel reinforced door. Edward knocked. The door opened, and in we went.

Jason closed the door behind us. I had missed him earlier at Danse Macabre. I certainly would have remembered the outfit. He was wearing a sleeveless plastic shirt, molded to his body. The pants were half crinkly blue cloth that looked like colored foil, with oval plastic windows, exposing his thigh, calf, and as he turned, one buttock.

I shook my head, smiling. "Please tell me Jean-Claude didn't make you wear that out where people could see you."

Jason grinned at me and turned so he flashed his butt at me. "Don't you like it?"

"I'm not sure," I said.

"Discuss fashion later, in a more secure place," Edward said. He glanced at the door to our right that led into the main part of the Circus. It was never locked, though it had a sign above the door about authorized personnel only. We were standing in a stone room with an electric light dangling from the ceiling. It was a storage area. A third door was set in the far wall. Behind it was a stairway and the nether regions where the vampires stayed during the day.

"I'll be underground, literally, soon enough, Edward."

Edward looked at me for a long moment. "You promised to hide out for twenty-four hours. No going outside for any reason. Don't even go into the main part of the Circus when it's open to the public. Just stay downstairs."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

"This isn't a joke, Anita."

I tugged at the bulletproof vest I'd put over my dress. It was too large for me, hot, and uncomfortable. "If I thought it was funny, I wouldn't have worn this."

"I'll bring you some armor that fits when I come back."

I met his pale blue eyes and saw something I'd never seen before. He was worried.

"You think they're going to kill me, don't you?"

He didn't look away. He didn't flinch. But what I saw in his face made me wish he had. "When I come back tomorrow, I'll have help with me."

"What kind of help?"

"My kind."

"What does that mean?"

He shook his head. "Twenty-four hours means that you hide until dawn tomorrow, Anita. With luck, I'll have a name for us, and we can kill him. Don't be careless while I'm gone."

I wanted to say something casual, joking, like "I didn't know you cared," but I couldn't. I couldn't joke staring into his serious eyes.

"I'll be careful."

He nodded. "Lock the door behind me." He went outside and Jason locked the door.

Jason leaned against the door for a second. "Why does he scare me?"

"Because you're not stupid," I said.

He smiled. "Thanks."

"Let's get downstairs," I said.

"Nervous?"

"It's been a long night, Jason. No games."

He pushed away from the door and said, "Lead the way."

I opened the door to the stone stairway, which led downward. It was wide enough for us to walk abreast. In fact, there was almost room for a third, as if the stairway had been built for wider things than human bodies.

Jason closed the door with a resounding thank. It made me jump. He started to say something, but the look on my face stopped him. Edward's parting comments had unnerved me. If I didn't know better, I'd have said I was scared. Naw.

Jason walked down the steps ahead of me, exaggerating his walk just a touch to show off his derriere.

"You can cut the peep show," I said.

"You don't like the view?" He leaned against the wall, hands pressed behind him, showing off his chest.

I laughed and walked past him, clicking my nails down his shirt. It was solid and hard as a beetle's carapace. "Is that as uncomfortable as it looks?"

He fell into step beside me. "It's not uncomfortable. The ladies at Danse Macabre liked it a lot."

I glanced at him. "I bet they did."

"I like flirting."

"No joke."

He laughed. "For someone who doesn't flirt, you have a lot of guys after you."

"Maybe because I don't flirt," I said.

Jason was quiet as we walked to the bend in the stairs. "You mean because you're a challenge, they keep coming around?"

"Something like that."

I couldn't see around the bend of the stairs. I hated not being able to see around corners. But this time I was invited; I hadn't come to kill anybody. The vamps tended to be a lot friendlier when you weren't trying to kill them.

"Is Richard here yet?"

"Not yet." He glanced back at me. "Do you think it's a good idea to have them both here at the same time?"

"No," I said, "absolutely not."

"Well, at least we all agree it's a bad idea," he said.

The door at the bottom of the stairs was iron bound, made of a heavy, dark wood. It looked like a portal to another time--a time when dungeons were in vogue, and knights rescued ladies fair or slaughtered a few peasants and no one minded, except maybe the peasants.

Jason drew a key out of his pants pocket. He unlocked the door and pushed. It opened on well-oiled hinges.

"Since when did you get a key?" I asked.

"I live here now."

"What about college?"

He shrugged. "It doesn't seem very important anymore."

"You plan on being Jean-Claude's lap-wolf forever?"

"I'm having a good time," he said.

I shook my head. "I fight like hell to stay free of him, and you just give in. I don't understand that at all."

"You have a college degree, right?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"I don't. But here we both are, ending up in the same place."

He had me there.

Jason motioned me through the door with a low flourish that had imitation Jean-Claude written all over it. Jean-Claude made it seem courtly and real. Jason meant it for a joke.

The door led into Jean-Claude's living room. The ceiling stretched up into darkness, but silken drapes hung in black and white folds that formed cloth walls on three sides. The fourth side was bare stone, painted white. A white stone fireplace looked original, which I knew it wasn't. The mantlepiece was black-veined white marble. A silver fireplace screen hid the hearth. There were four chairs in black and silver grouped around a wood and glass coffee table. A black vase sat on the table filled with white tulips. My high heels sank into the thick, black carpet.

There was one other addition to the room that stopped me in my tracks. A painting hung above the fireplace. Three people dressed in the style of the 1600s. The woman wore white and silver with a square bodice showing quite a bit of decolletage, her brown hair styled in careful ringlets. She held a red rose loosely in one hand. A man stood behind her, tall and slender, with dark gold hair in ringlets over his shoulders. He had a mustache and a Vandyke beard, so dark gold they were almost brown. He wore one of those floppy hats with feathers and was dressed in white and gold. But it was the other man who made me walk towards the painting.

He was seated just behind the woman. He was dressed in black with silver embroidery and a wide lace collar and lace cuffs. He held a floppy black hat with a single white feather and a silver buckle across his lap. Black hair fell in ringlets over his shoulders. He was clean shaven, and the artist had managed to capture the sinking blue of his eyes. I stared at Jean-Claude's face painted hundreds of years before I was born. The other two were smiling. Only he was solemn and perfect, dark to their lightness. He was like the shadow of death come to the ball.

I knew Jean-Claude was centuries old, but I'd never had such obvious proof, never had it shoved in my face. The portrait bothered me for another reason. It made me wonder if Jean-Claude had lied about his age.

A sound made me turn. Jason had slumped into one of the chairs. Jean-Claude stood behind me. He'd taken off his jacket and his curling black hair spilled across the shoulders of his crimson shirt. The shirt cuffs were long and tight at the wrist, held by three antique jet beads just like the high neck of the shirt. Without the jacket to distract the eye, the pale oval of skin framed by the red cloth gleamed. The cloth covered his nipples but left his belly button bare and drew the eye to the top of his black pants. Or maybe it just drew me. It was a bad idea to be here. He was just as dangerous as the assassin, maybe more. Dangerous in ways I had no words for.

He glided towards me in his black boots. I watched him walk closer like a deer caught in headlights. I expected him to flirt or ask how I liked the painting. Instead, he said, "Tell me of Robert. The police said he was dead, but they know nothing. You have seen the body. Is he truly dead?"

His voice was thick with concern, worry. It caught me completely off guard. "They took his heart."

"If it is only a stake through the heart, he might survive if it was removed."

I shook my head. "The heart was taken out completely. We couldn't find it in the house or the yard."

Jean-Claude stopped. He slumped suddenly into one of the chairs, staring at nothing, or nothing I could see. "Then he is truly gone." His voice held sorrow the way it sometimes held laughter, so that I felt his words like a cold, grey rain.

"You treated Robert like dirt. Why all this weeping and wailing?"

He looked at me. "I am not weeping."

"But you treated him badly."

"I was his master. If I had treated him kindly, he would have seen it as a sign of weakness. He would have challenged me and I would have killed him. Do not criticize things that you do not understand." There was anger in that last sentence, enough to brush heat along my skin.

Normally, it would have pissed me off, but tonight... "I apologize. You're right. I don't understand. I didn't think you gave a damn about Robert unless he could further your power."

"Then you do not understand me at all, ma petite. He was my companion for over a century. After a century, I would mourn even an enemy's passing. Robert was not my friend, but he was mine. Mine to punish, mine to reward, mine to protect. I have failed him."

He stared up at me, eyes gone blue and alien. "I am grateful to you for seeing to Monica. The last thing I can do for Robert is to tend his wife and child. They will want for nothing."

He stood suddenly in one smooth motion. "Come, ma petite. I will show you to our room." I didn't like the our, but I didn't argue. This new, improved, emotional Jean-Claude had me confused.

"Who are the other two in the painting?"

He glanced at it. "Julianna and Asher. She was his human servant. The three of us traveled together for nearly twenty years."

Good. He couldn't give me some bullshit about the clothing being costumes now. "You're too young to have been a Musketeer."

He stared at me, face carefully blank, giving nothing away. "Whatever do you mean, ma petite?"

"Don't even try. The clothing is from the 1600s, around the time of Dumas's The Three Musketeers. When we first met, you told me you were two hundred and ten. Eventually, I figured out you were lying, that you were closer to three hundred."

"If Nikolaos had known my true

age, she might have killed me, ma petite."

"Yeah, the old Master of the City was a real bitch. But she's dead. Why still lie?"

"You mean why am I lying to you?" he said.

I nodded. "Yeah, that's what I mean."

He smiled. "You are a necromancer, ma petite. I would have thought you could judge my age without my help."

I tried to read his face and couldn't. "You've always been hard to read; you know that."

"So glad I can be a challenge in some area."

I let that go. He knew exactly how much of a challenge he was, but for the first time in a long time, I was bothered. Telling a vamp's age was one of my talents, not an exact science to be sure, but one I was good at. I'd never been off by this much. "A century older, my, my."

"Are you so sure that it is only a century?"

I stared at him. I let his power beat across my skin, rolled the feel of it around in my head. "Pretty sure."

He smiled. "Do not frown so, ma petite. Being able to hide my age is one of my talents. I pretended to be a hundred years older when Asher was my companion. It allowed us freedom to wander through the lands of other masters."

"What made you stop trying to pass for older?"

"Asher needed help, and I was not master enough to help him." He looked up at the portrait. "I... humbled myself to gain him aid."

"Why?"

"The Church had a theory that vampires could be cured by holy items. They bound Asher with holy items and silver chains. They used holy water on him, drop by drop, trying to save his soul."

I stared up at that handsome, smiling face. I'd been bitten by a master vampire once upon a time and had the wound cleansed with holy water. It had felt like a red-hot brand was being shoved into my skin, like all the blood in my body had turned to boiling oil. I had vomited and screamed and thought myself very brave for not passing out altogether. That had been one bite mark, one day. Having what amounted to acid dripped on you until you died was in the top five ways not to go out.

"What happened to the girl, Julianna?"

"She was burned as a witch."

"Where were you?"

"I had taken a ship to see my mother. She was dying. I was on my way back when I heard Asher's call. I could not get there in time. I swear by all that is holy or unholy that I tried. I rescued Asher, but he never forgave me."

"He's not dead?" I asked.

"No."

"How hurt was he?"

"Until I met Sabin I thought Asher's scars the worst injury I'd ever known a vampire to survive."

"Why did you hang the painting if it bothers you this much?"

He sighed and looked at me. "Asher sent it as a present, to congratulate me for becoming Master of the City. The three of us were companions, almost family. Asher and I were true friends, both masters, both of near equal power, both in love with Julianna. She was devoted to him, but I had her favor as well."

"You mean a menage a trois?"

He nodded.

"Asher doesn't hold a grudge?"

"Oh, no, he holds a grudge. If the council would allow it, he would have come with the picture and had his revenge."

"To kill you?"

Jean-Claude smiled. "Asher always had a strong sense of irony, ma petite. He petitioned the council for your life, not mine."

My eyes widened. "What did I ever do to him?"

"I killed his human servant; he kills mine. Justice."

I stared back up at the handsome face. "The council said no?"

"Indeed."

"You have any other old enemies running around?"

Jean-Claude gave a weak smile. "Many, ma petite, but none in town at the moment."

I looked up at those smiling faces. I didn't know quite how to phrase it, but said it anyway. "You all look so young."

"I am physically the same, ma petite."

I shook my head. "Maybe young isn't the word I want. Maybe naive."

He smiled. "By the time this painting was made, ma petite, naive was not a word that described me, either."

"Fine, have it your way." I looked at him, studying his face. He was beautiful, but there was something in his eyes that wasn't in the painting, some level of sorrow or terror. Something I had no word for, but it was there just the same. A vampire may not wrinkle up, but living a couple of centuries leaves its mark. Even if it's only a shadow in the eyes, a tightness around the mouth.

I turned to Jason, who was still slumped in the chair. "Does he give these little history lessons often?"

"Only to you," Jason said.

"You never ask questions?" I asked.

"I'm just his pet. You don't answer questions for your pet."

"And that doesn't bother you?"

Jason smiled. "Why should I care about the painting? The woman's dead, so I can't have sex with her. Why should I care?"

I felt Jean-Claude move past me, but couldn't follow with my eyes. His hand was a blur. The chair clattered to the floor, spilling Jason with it. Blood showed at his mouth.

"Never speak of her again in such a manner."

Jason touched the back of his hand to his mouth and came away with blood. "Whatever you say." He licked the blood off his hand with long slow movements of his tongue.

I stared from one to the other of them. "You are both crazy."

"Not crazy, ma petite, merely not human."

"Being a vampire doesn't give you the right to treat people like that. Richard doesn't beat people up."

"Which is why he will never hold the pack."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Even if he swallows his high morals and kills Marcus, he will not be cruel enough to frighten the rest. He will be challenged again and again. Unless he begins slaughtering people, he will eventually die."

"Slapping people around won't keep him alive," I said.

"It would help. Torture works well, but I doubt that Richard would have the stomach for it."

"I couldn't stomach it."

"But you litter the ground with bodies, ma petite. Killing is the best deterrent of all."

I was too tired to be having this conversation. "It's 4:30 in the morning. I want to go to bed."

Jean-Claude smiled. "Why, ma petite, you are not usually so eager."

"You know what I mean," I said.

Jean-Claude took a gliding step towards me. He didn't touch me, but he stood very close and looked at me. "I know exactly what you mean, ma petite."

That brought heat in a rush up my neck. The words were innocent. He made them sound intimate, obscene.

Jason righted the chair and stood, licking the blood off the corner of his mouth. He said nothing, merely watched us like a well-trained dog, seen and not heard.

Jean-Claude took a step back. I felt him move, but couldn't follow it with my eyes. There had been a time only months ago that it would have looked like magic, like he'd just appeared a few feet away.

He held his hand out towards me. "Come, ma petite. Let us retire for the day."

I'd held his hand before, so why was I left standing, staring, like he was offering me the forbidden fruit that once tasted would change everything? He was nearly four hundred years old. Jean-Claude's face from all those long years ago was smiling down at me, and there he stood with almost the same smile. If I'd ever needed proof, I had it. He'd struck Jason down like a dog he didn't much like. And still he was so beautiful, it made my chest ache.

I wanted to take his hand. I wanted to run my hands over the red shirt, explore that open oval of flesh. I folded my hands over my stomach and shook my head.

His smile widened until a hint of fang showed. "You have held my hand before, ma petite. Why is tonight any different?" His voice held an edge of mockery.

"Just show me the room, Jean-Claude."

He let his hand drop to his side, but he didn't seem offended. If anything, he seemed pleased, which irritated me.

"Bring Richard through when he arrives, Jason, but announce him before he comes. I don't want to be interrupted."

"Anything you say," Jason said. He smirked at us, at me, a knowing look on his face. Did everyone and their wolf believe I was sleeping with Jean-Claude? Of course, maybe it was a case of the lady protesting too much. Maybe.

"Just bring Richard to the room when he comes," I said. "You won't be interrupting anything." I glanced at Jean-Claude while I said the last.

He laughed, that warm touchable sound of his that wove over my skin like silk. "Even your resistance to temptation grows thin, ma petite."

I shrugged. I would have liked to argue, but he'd smell a lie. Even a run-of-the-mill werewolf can smell desire. Jason wasn't run-of-the-mill. So everyone in the room knew I was hot for Jean-Claude. So what?

"No is one of my favorite words, Jean-Claude. You should know that by now."

The laughter faded from his face, leaving his blue, blue eyes gleaming, but not with humor. Something darker and more sure of itself looked out his eyes. "I survive on hope alone, ma petite."

Jean-Claude parted the black and white drapes to reveal the bare, grey stones that the room was made of. A large hallway stretched deeper into the labyrinth. Torchlight gleamed beyond the electricity of the living room. He stood there, backlit against the flame and the soft modern lights. Some trick of light and shadow plunged half his face into darkness and brought a pinprick glow to his eyes. Or maybe it wasn't a trick of the light. Maybe it was just him.

"Shall we go, ma petite?"

I walked into that outer darkness. He didn't try to touch me as I moved past him. I'd have given him a brownie point for resisting the urge, except I knew him too well. He was just biding his time. Touching me now might piss me off. Later, it might not. Even I couldn't guarantee when the mood would be right.

Jean-Claude moved ahead of me. He glanced back over his shoulder. "After all, ma petite, you do not know the way to my bedroom."

"I've been there once," I said.

"Carried unconscious and dying. It hardly counts." He glided down the hall. He put a little extra sway to his walk, somewhat like Jason had done on the stairs, but where it had been funny with the werewolf, Jean-Claude made it utterly seductive.

"You just wanted to walk in front so I'd have to stare at your butt."

He spoke without turning around. "No one makes you stare at me, ma petite, not even me."

And that was the truth. The horrible truth. If in some dark part of my heart I hadn't been attracted to him from the beginning, I'd have killed him long ago. Or tried to. I had more legal vampire kills than any other vampire hunter in the country. They didn't call me the Executioner for nothing. So how did I end up being safer in the depths of the Circus of the Damned with the monsters than above ground with the humans? Because somewhere along the line, I didn't kill the monster I should have.

That particular monster was gliding up the hallway ahead of me. And he still had the cutest butt I'd ever seen on a dead man.