The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 22

22

Jean-Claude leaned one shoulder against the wall. He'd already opened the door. He motioned me inside with a graceful sweep of his hand.

My high heels sank into the deep, white carpet. White wallpaper with tiny silver designs graced the walls. There was a white door in the left-hand wall near the bed. The bed had white satin sheets. A dozen black and white pillows were grouped at the head of the bed. A fan of black and white drapes fell from the ceiling, forming a partial canopy over the bed. The black lacquer vanity and chest of drawers still sat in opposite corners. The wallpaper and the door were new. Guess which bothered me more.

"Where does the door go?"

"The bathroom." He closed the outer door and walked past me to sit on the edge of the bed. There were no chairs.

"A bathroom. That wasn't here last time," I said.

"Not in its present form, but it was here just the same."

He leaned back on his elbows. The movement strained the cloth of his shirt, exposing as much skin as the shirt would allow. The line of dark hair that started low on his belly peeked just above the cloth.

The room was getting warmer. I undid the velcro fastenings on the bulletproof vest and slid it over my head. "Where do you want me to put this?"

"Anywhere you like," he said. His voice was soft and more intimate than the words themselves.

I walked around to the far side of the bed, away from him, and laid the vest across the satin sheets.

He lay back against the sheets, his black hair framing his pale face to perfection. Warmer, it was definitely getting warmer in here.

"Mind if I freshen up?"

"Whatever I have is yours, ma petite. You should know that by now."

I backed into the door and opened it with a feeling of relief. I closed the door without really looking at the bathroom. When I looked up, I let out a silent wow.

The room was long and narrow. It had a double sink and mirrors with round white lightbulbs edging it. The sinks were black marble with white veins running through. Every faucet, every metal edge, gleamed silver. The floor was black carpeting. A half wall of silver and mirrored panels hid the black stool against a black wall. Another half wall graced the other side. Then there was the bathtub. Three marble steps led up to a black bathtub, big enough for four people. The faucet was a silver swan with outspread wings. There was no way to take a shower, which was my preferred method, and the swan was a bit much, but other than that, it was lovely.

I sat down on the cool marble edging. It was nearly five in the morning. My eyes burned from lack of sleep. The adrenaline rush of nearly getting killed had long since faded. What I wanted was to be comforted, held, yes, sex was in there somewhere, but that wasn't my highest priority tonight. I think both Richard and Jean-Claude would say it was never my highest priority, but that was their problem. Okay, it was our problem.

If it had been Richard stretched out on the bed in the next room, I would have jumped him tonight. But it wasn't Richard, and once Richard got here, we'd be sleeping in Jean-Claude's bed. Seemed pretty tacky to have sex for the first time in your other boyfriend's bed. But it wasn't just the boys suffering from sexual tension, I was drowning, too.

Was Richard right? Was the fact that Jean-Claude wasn't human the only thing keeping me out of his bed? No. Or at least I didn't think so. Out of Richard's bed? The answer, sadly, was yes, maybe.

I freshened up and couldn't help checking myself in the mirror. The makeup had faded a little, but the liner still made my large, dark eyes stand out in dramatic contrast. The blush was almost gone, and the lipstick had long ago vanished. I had lipstick in my purse. I could freshen that at least. But freshening my lipstick was like admitting I cared what Jean-Claude thought of me. I did care. That was the truly scary part. I did not put on more lipstick. I walked back into the bedroom as is, let him make of it what he would.

He was leaning on one elbow, watching me as I came through the door. "Ma petite, you are beautiful."

I shook my head. "Pretty, I'll give you, but not beautiful."

He cocked his head to one side, sending a wave of hair over one shoulder. "Who told you you were not beautiful?"

I leaned against the door. "When I was a little girl, my father would come up behind my mother. He would wrap his arms around her waist, bury his face in her hair, and say, 'How is the most beautiful woman in the world today?' He said it at least once a day. She would laugh and tell him not to be silly, but I agreed with him. To me, she was the most beautiful woman in the world."

"She was your mother. All little girls think that of their mother."

"Maybe, but two years after she died, Dad remarried. He married Judith, who was tall and blond and blue-eyed, and nothing like my mother. If he had really believed my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, why did he marry some Nordic ice princess? Why didn't he marry someone small and dark like my mother?"

"I don't know, ma petite," he said quietly.

"Judith had a daughter only a couple of years younger than me. Then they had Josh together and he was as blond and blue-eyed as the rest of them. I looked like a small dark mistake in the family photos."

"Your skin is almost as pale as mine, ma petite."

"But I have my mother's eyes and hair. My hair isn't brunette, it's black. A woman asked Judith once in front of me if I was adopted. Judith said, no, I was from her husband's first marriage."

Jean-Claude slid off the bed. He moved towards me, and I had to look at the floor. I wanted badly to be held, to be comforted. If it had been Richard, I'd have gone to him. But it wasn't Richard.

Jean-Claude touched my cheek and raised my face until I had to look at him. "I have lived for over three hundred years. In that time, the ideal of beauty has changed many times. Large breasts, small, thin, curved, tall, short, they have all been the height of beauty at one time or another. But in all that time, ma petite, I have never desired anyone the way I desire you." He leaned towards me, and I didn't move away. His lips brushed mine in a gentle kiss.

He took that one last step to press our bodies together, and I stopped him, one hand on his chest, but all I met was bare skin. The slickness of his cross-shaped burn scar met my fingertips. I moved my hand and found his heart beating against my palm. Not an improvement.

He drew back, a breath, and whispered into my mouth, "Tell me no, ma petite, and I will stop."

I had to swallow twice before I could speak. "No."

Jean-Claude stepped away from me. He lay back on the bed as he had earlier, propped on his elbows, his legs from the knees hung off the bed. He stared at me, daring me to come join him, I think.

I wasn't that stupid. There was some dark part of me that was tempted. Lust has less logic than love, sometimes, but it's easier to fight.

"I have played the mortal for you these many months. I thought in March when you held my naked body, when you shared blood with me, that it would be a changing point for us. That you would give in to your desire and admit your feelings for me."

A burning wash of color crept up my face. I had no good excuse for the foreplay that got out of hand. I was weak, so sue me. "I gave you blood because you were dying. I'd have never done it otherwise. You know that."

He stared at me. It wasn't vampire tricks that made me want to look away. It was a raw honesty that I'd never seen in his face before. "I know that now, ma petite. When we returned from Branson, you threw yourself into Richard's arms as though he were a lifeline. We continued to date, but you drew away. I felt it and did not know how to stop it."

He sat up on the bed, hands clasped in his lap. A look of frustration and confusion passed over his face. "I have never had another woman deny me, ma petite."

I laughed. "Oh, your ego isn't big."

"It is not ego, ma petite, it is the truth."

I leaned against the bathroom door and thought about that one. "No one in almost three hundred years has ever said no to you?"

"You find that so hard to believe?"

"If I can do it, so can they."

He shook his head. "You do not appreciate how very harsh your strength of will is, ma petite. It is impressive. You have no idea how impressive."

"If I'd fallen into your arms the first time we met, or even the dozenth time we met, you'd have bedded me, bled me, and dumped me."

I watched the truth of my words fill his face. I hadn't realized until this moment how much control he kept over his facial expressions, how it was the lack of reaction that made him seem more otherworldly than he was.

"You are right," he said. "If you had giggled and fawned over me, I would not have given you a second glance. Your

partial immunity to my powers was the first attraction. But it was your stubbornness that intrigued me. Your flat refusal of me."

"I was a challenge."

"Yes."

I stared into his suddenly open face. For the first time, I thought I might see the truth in his eyes. "Good thing I resisted. I don't like being used and tossed aside."

"Once you were only a challenge, something to be conquered. Then I became intrigued by your growing powers. I saw possibilities that I could use you to strengthen my position if only you would join with me."

Something like pain passed over his face, and I wanted to ask if it was real. If any of this was real, or if it was only another act. I trusted Jean-Claude to do whatever it took to stay alive. I didn't trust him to tell the truth sitting on a stack of Bibles.

"I saved your ass enough times. I'm your declared human servant. What more do you want?"

"You, ma petite." He stood, but didn't come closer. "It is no longer challenge or the promise of power that makes me look to you."

My pulse was suddenly thudding in my throat, and he hadn't done a damn thing.

"I love you, Anita."

I stared at him, my eyes growing wide. I opened my mouth, closed it. I didn't believe him. He lied so easily, so well. He was the master of manipulation. How could I believe him now? "What do you want me to say?"

He shook his head, and his face fell back into its normal lines. That beautiful perfection that was what passed for ordinary. But I knew now that even this was a mask, hiding his deeper emotions.

"How did you do that?"

"After several centuries of being forced to school your face into pleasant, unreadable lines, you lose the knack of anything else. My survival has depended on my expression more than once. I wish you understood the effort that little display of humanity cost me."

"What do you want me to say, Jean-Claude?"

"You love me a little, that I am sure of."

I shrugged. "Maybe, but a little isn't enough."

"You love Richard a lot, don't you?"

I met his eyes and wanted to lie, to save his feelings, but those kinds of lies hurt more than the truth. "Yeah."

"Yet, you have not made your choice. You have not told me to leave the two of you to matrimonial bliss. Why is that?"

"Last time we had this talk, you said you'd kill Richard."

"If that is all that is stopping you, ma petite, have no fear. I will not kill Richard merely because you go to his bed and not mine."

"Since when?" I asked.

"When I threw my support to Richard, Marcus became my enemy. That cannot be changed." He leaned his shoulder against the dark wooden bedpost closest to me. "I had thought to petition another pack. There is always an ambitious alpha male out there somewhere. Someone who would like his own pack but either through sentimentality or lack of strength is doomed to play second forever. I could kill Richard and bring someone else in to kill Marcus."

I listened to his plan told so matter-of-factly. "What changed your mind?"

"You."

"Come again?"

"You love him, ma petite. You truly love him. His death would destroy something inside of you. When Julianna died, I thought I would never feel for anyone again. And I didn't, until I met you."

"You won't kill Richard because it would hurt me?"

"Oui."

"So I could tell Richard when he gets here that I've chosen him, and you would let us go off, get married, whatever?"

"Isn't there one hurdle to your marriage besides myself?" he asked.

"What?"

"You must see him change into wolf form." Jean-Claude smiled and shook his head. "If Richard was human, you would meet at the door with a smile and a yes. But you fear what he is. He is not human enough for you, ma petite."

"He isn't human enough for himself," I said.

Jean-Claude raised his eyebrows. "Yes, Richard runs from his beast, as you have run from me. But Richard shares a body with his beast. He cannot outrun it."

"I know that."

"Richard is still running, ma petite. And you run with him. If you were secure that you could accept him, all of him, you would have done it by now."

"He keeps finding excuses not to change for me."

"He fears your reaction," Jean-Claude said.

"It's more than that," I said. "If I can embrace his beast, I'm not sure he'll be able to accept me."

Jean-Claude cocked his head to one side. "I do not understand."

"He hates what he is so badly. I think if I can accept his beast, he won't... he won't love me anymore."

"Being able to embrace his beast would make you what... perverse?"

I nodded. "I think so."

"You are trapped on the horns of a nasty dilemma, ma petite. He will not make love to you or marry you until you have seen and accepted his beast. Yet if you accept it, you fear he will turn from you."

"Yeah."

He shook his head. "Only you could choose two men in one human lifetime that are this confusing."

"I didn't do it on purpose."

He pushed away from the bed. He stopped two small steps from me, staring down. "I tried to play the mortal for you, ma petite. But Richard is much better at being human than I am. I have not been truly human for so very long. If I cannot be the better man, let me be the better monster."

My eyes narrowed. "What's that suppose to mean?"

"It means, ma petite, that Jason told me of what happened this afternoon. I know how close you and Richard came."

How much had the lycanthropes been able to hear? More than I was comfortable with, that was for sure. "I just love being spied on."

"Do not be flippant, ma petite, please."

It was the please that got me. "I'm listening."

"I told you once that if Richard could touch you and I could not, it would not be fair. That is still true."

I pushed away from the door. He'd stepped over the line. "Are you asking me to let you touch me where Richard touched me?"

He smiled. "Such righteous indignation, ma petite. But have no fear. Forcing myself upon you in such a way would smack of rape. I have never been interested in such things."

I took a step back, putting a little space between us. Unless I was really angry, it was never good to get that close. "So, what are you saying?"

"You have always forbidden me to use vampire tricks, as you call them, with you." He held a hand up before I could say it. "I do not mean bespelling you with my eyes. I am not even sure that is possible anymore. I cannot be human, ma petite. I am a vampire. Let me show you that has pleasures beyond humanity."

I shook my head. "No way."

"A kiss, ma petite, that is all I ask. A chaste kiss."

"And the catch is?" I asked.

His eyes were solid, sparkling blue. His skin glowed like alabaster under lights.

"I don't think so," I said.

"If you were truly sure of Richard, I would leave you to him. But does the fact that I love you not earn me so much as a kiss?" He glided towards me. I backed up, but the door was right there, and there was nowhere to go.

He was like a living sculpture, all ivory and sapphire, too beautiful for words. Too beautiful to touch. His hands smoothed over my forearms, along my hands. I gasped. Power rushed along my skin in a smooth wash, like air dancing over my body.

I must have tensed up because Jean-Claude said, "It will not hurt, that I promise."

"Just a kiss," I whispered.

"Just a kiss," he whispered. His face lowered towards mine. His lips brushed mine, gently, slowly. The power flowed across his lips into my mouth. I think I stopped breathing for a second. My skin felt like it was melting away and I would sink into his body, into that shining power.

"Looks like I got here just in time." It was Richard in the doorway.

I shoved my hand into Jean-Claude's chest and pushed him away hard enough for him to stumble. I was gasping for air like I'd been drowning. My skin pulsed and beat with the power that still crawled over me, into me.

"Richard," I whispered. I wanted to say that it wasn't what it looked like, but I couldn't get enough air.

Jean-Claude turned, smiling. He knew exactly what to say. "Richard, how good of you to join us. How did you get past my wolf?"

"It wasn't that hard."

I stared at both of them. I was still having trouble breathing. It felt like every nerve in my body had been touched

all at once. The line between pleasure and pain was damn narrow, and I wasn't sure which side this went on.

The light was seeping away from Jean-Claude, leaving him pale, lovely, almost human.

Richard stood directly inside the door. His eyes glowed not with inner light but with anger, an anger that made his eyes dance, tightened the muscles across his shoulders and down his arms so that the effort showed from across the room. I'd never been so aware of how physically large he was. He seemed to fill more space than he should have. The first skin-prickling rush of his power swirled over me.

I took a deep, shaking breath and started walking towards him. The closer I got, the thicker the power, until about six feet from him, it was like stepping into a nearly solid mass of pulsing, vibrating energy.

I stood there, trying to swallow my heart back into my throat. He was dressed in jeans and a green flannel work shirt with sleeves rolled over his forearms. His hair fell loose round his shoulders in a wavy mass. I'd seen him like this a hundred times, but suddenly it was all different. I had never been afraid of Richard, not really. Now, for the first time, I saw that there was something to fear. Something swam behind his eyes, his beast, he called it. It was there now just behind those true, brown eyes. A monster waiting to be set loose.

"Richard," I said and had to cough to clear my throat, "what's wrong with you?"

"Tomorrow is the full moon, Anita. Strong emotions aren't good right now." Rage thinned his face, made those lovely cheekbones high and tight. "If I hadn't interrupted, would you have broken your promise to me?"

"He still doesn't know what kind of hose I'm wearing," I said.

Richard smiled, some of the tension easing away.

"Too smooth for garters," Jean-Claude said. "Panty hose, though they could be crotchless, of that I am not sure."

Richard snarled.

I glanced back at Jean-Claude. "Don't help me."

He smiled and nodded. He'd leaned his back on one of the bedposts, fingers playing over the bare skin of his chest. It was suggestive, and he meant it to be. Damn him.

A low, bass growl brought my attention back to Richard. He stalked towards the bed as if each movement hurt. The tension sang through the building power. Was I going to get to see him change here and now? If he changed, there'd be a fight, and for the very first time, I was worried for Jean-Claude's safety, as well as Richard's.

"Don't do this, Richard, please."

He was staring past me at Jean-Claude. I didn't dare look behind to see what mischief the vampire was doing; I had my hands full with the werewolf in front of me.

Something flickered across his face. I was sure Jean-Claude had done something behind my back. Richard made a sound more animal than human and rushed for the bed. I didn't move out of the way. I stood my ground, and when he was even with me, moving past me, I threw my body into him and threw him in a nearly perfect shoulder roll. His momentum did the rest. Maybe if I'd let go of his arm, we could have avoided the rest, but I made the classic mistake. I didn't think Richard would really hurt me.

He grabbed the arm that was holding him and flung me across the room. He was flat on his back and didn't have much leverage, and that was all that saved me. I was airborne for just a second and rolled along the carpet when I hit. The world was still spinning when my hand went for the knife. I couldn't hear anything but the blood rushing in my own head, but I knew, I knew he was coming.

He touched my arm, rolled me over, and I laid the silver blade against his neck. He froze, bent over, trying, I think, to help me stand. Richard and I stared at each other from inches away. The anger was gone from his face. His eyes were normal, as lovely as ever, but I kept the knife against the smooth skin of his neck, dimpling it so he knew I meant business.

He swallowed carefully. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Anita. I am so sorry."

"Back off," I said.

"Are you hurt?"

"Back off, Richard. Now!"

"Let me help you." He bent closer, and I pressed the blade in hard enough to draw a trickle of blood.

"Let go of me, Richard."

He let go and moved slowly away. He looked puzzled and hurt. He touched the blood at his neck as if he didn't know what it was.

When he was out of reach, I let myself sag against the carpet. Nothing was broken, of that I was sure, and I wasn't bleeding. If he'd thrown me into a wall with that much force, it would have been a different story. I'd been dating him for seven months, nearly slept with him more than once, and in all that time, I hadn't fully appreciated what I was playing with.

"Ma petite, are you all right?" Jean-Claude was standing at the foot of the bed. He was watching Richard closely as he moved towards me.

"I'm all right, I'm all right." I glared up at him. "What did you do behind my back to piss him off?"

Jean-Claude looked embarrassed. "I did tease Monsieur Zeeman. Perhaps I even wanted a fight. Jealousy is a foolish emotion. How was I to know you would not move out of the way of a charging werewolf?"

"I don't back up, not for anyone." I almost laughed. "Though next time, maybe I'll make an exception."

"I didn't mean to hurt you," Richard said. "But seeing you together like that... Knowing you're with him isn't the same thing as having it rubbed in my face." His anger had vanished the moment he'd hurt me. Horror at what he'd done, fear for my safety, sanity returning in a rush.

"We were only kissing, Richard, nothing else, no matter what he wants you to believe."

"I was suddenly so jealous. I'm sorry."

"I know it was an accident, Richard. I'm just glad there wasn't a wall closer."

"I could have hurt you badly." He took a step towards me, hands reaching, and stopped himself. "And you want me to let the beast loose enough to kill. Don't you understand how hard I fight to control it?"

"I understand better than I did a few minutes ago," I said.

"Your bags are in the hallway. I'll bring them in, then I'll go." This was the look I'd been dreading. This crushed, puppy dog look. The anger had been easier to deal with, if more dangerous.

"Don't go."

They both looked at me.

"Jean-Claude staged this." I held a hand up before he could protest. "Oh, I know you enjoyed yourself, but you still wanted Richard to see us together. You wanted to pick a fight. You wanted to show me he was as much a monster as you are. You succeeded on all counts beautifully. Now, get out."

"You are throwing me out of my own bedroom?" He looked amused.

"Yeah." I stood up and was only a little wobbly on the high heels.

Jean-Claude sighed. "I am to be relegated forever to my coffin then, to never know the joy of your company for my slumber."

"You don't go to sleep, Jean-Claude. You die. Maybe I lust after your warm, breathing body, but I'm not up to the full package yet."

He smiled. "Very well, ma petite. I will leave you and Monsieur Zeeman to discuss the last few minutes. I would ask one thing."

"And that is?" I asked.

"That you not make love in my bed when I cannot join you."

I sighed. "It would be pretty tacky to make love with Richard in your bed. I think you're safe on that one."

Jean-Claude glanced at Richard. His eyes seemed to take in every inch of him, lingering on the open wound at his neck, though maybe that was just my imagination. "If anyone could withstand the temptation, it is you, ma petite." Jean-Claude looked at me, his face unreadable. "I am sorry you were nearly hurt. I did not mean for that to happen."

"You always have good intentions," I said.

He sighed, then smiled. He glanced at Richard. "Perhaps I am not the better monster, after all."

"Get out," I said.

He left, still smiling. He closed the door behind him, and I was left with his power dancing over my skin, the feel of his lips and hands on my body. It was only a kiss. Foreplay. But even the rush of adrenaline, of nearly being thrown into a wall, couldn't chase away the aftereffects.

Richard stood staring at me, as if he could sense the power somehow. "I'll go get the bags," he said. He could have said so many things, but that was safest.

He went to get the bags, and I sat down on the bed. Richard could have killed me. Jean-Claude would never have lost control like that. I wanted Richard to embrace his beast, but maybe, just maybe, I didn't understand what that meant.