The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 24~25

24

I woke to darkness and someone bending over me. I couldn't really see, but I felt something in the air above me like a weight. My hand slid under the pillow and came out with the Firestar. I shoved the gun into whoever it was, and they were gone like a dream. I slid off the bed, pressing my back against the wall, making myself as small a target as possible.

A voice came out of the darkness. I aimed for it, straining my ears for sounds of more intruders.

"It's Cassandra. The light switch is above you. I'll stay right here while you turn on the lights." Her voice was low, even, the sort of voice you used for crazy people, or people who had guns pointed at you.

I swallowed past my pulse and scooted my back up the wall. I swiped my left hand up the wall until it hit the switch plate, then I knelt back down, fingers touching the switch. When I was as far down as I could get and still turn on the light, I hit it. Light flared. There was a moment of dazzling blindness while I hunkered on the floor, gun pointed blindly. When I could see, Cassandra stood near the foot of the bed, hands out to either side, staring at me. Her eyes were a little too wide. The lace on her Victorian nightgown fluttered with her breath.

Yes, Victorian nightgown. She looked delicate, doll-like. I'd asked her last night if Jean-Claude picked out the gown. No, she'd picked it out. Each to their own.

She stood on the carpet, frozen, staring. "Anita, are you all right?" Her tone said she didn't think so.

I took a deep breath and pointed the gun at the ceiling. "Yeah, I'm all right."

"Can I move?"

I stood, holding the gun at my side. "Don't try to touch me when I'm in a sound sleep. Say something first."

"I'll remember that," she said. "May I move?"

"Sure. What's up?" I asked.

"Richard and Jean-Claude are outside."

I checked my watch. It was one o'clock in the afternoon. I'd had nearly six hours of sleep. Or would have had if Cassandra and I hadn't talked for an hour. I hadn't had a sleep-over in years, and frankly, girl or no, she was still a lycanthrope that I'd met only that night. It felt strange to trust her at my back as my bodyguard. I've never been too fond of sleeping with strangers. It's not sexual. It's plain suspicion. Being deeply asleep is as helpless as most of us get.

"What do they want?"

"Richard said he has a plan."

I didn't need to ask what plan. There was only one thing on his mind the day of the full moon: Marcus.

"Tell them I'm getting dressed first." I went for my suitcase. Cassandra padded to the door. She opened it only a crack, speaking softly. She closed it firmly behind her and came back to me. She looked puzzled. In the nightgown with a puzzled frown on her face, she looked about twelve.

I knelt by the suitcase, clothes in my hands, looking up at her. "What now?"

"Jean-Claude said not to bother getting dressed."

I stared at her for a heartbeat. "Yeah, right. I'm getting dressed. They can just bloody well wait that long."

She nodded and went back to the door.

I went for the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked as tired as I felt. I brushed teeth, took care of necessities, and wished for a shower. It would have helped wake me up. I could have run a bath, but I wasn't sure the boys would last that long. Besides, a bath was something I did to get ready for bed, not for waking up. I needed something stimulating, not something soothing.

Richard had a plan, but Jean-Claude was with him. That meant that the vampire had helped come up with the plan. It was a scary thought.

Tonight Richard would fight Marcus. He could be dead by tomorrow. The thought made my chest tight. There was a pressure behind my eyes that had more to do with tears than anything else. I could live with Richard off somewhere. It would hurt if he wasn't with me, but I'd survive. I might not survive his death. I loved Richard. I really loved him. I didn't want to give him up. Not for anything.

Jean-Claude was being a perfect gentleman, but I didn't trust it. How could I? He always had a dozen different reasons for everything he did. What was the plan? The quicker I dressed, the quicker I'd find out.

I'd pretty much just grabbed stuff out of the suitcase. You can mix and match almost all the clothing I own. Dark blue jeans, navy blue polo shirt, white jogging socks. I hadn't dressed to impress anyone. Now that I was a little more awake, I wished I'd chosen something a little less practical. Love makes you worry about stuff like that.

I opened the door. Richard stood by the bed. The sight of him stopped me in my tracks. His hair was brushed until it fell like a frothy mass around his shoulders. He was wearing nothing but a pair of silky undershorts, royal purple. They were slit high on each side, giving glimpses of his thighs as he turned towards me.

When I could close my mouth and talk, I said, "Why are you dressed like that?"

Jean-Claude leaned one shoulder against the wall. He was wearing a black ankle-length robe edged with black fur. His hair mingled with the fur collar until it was hard to tell where one blackness ended and the other began. His pale neck and a triangle of his chest showed almost perfectly white against the fur.

"You look like you've just stepped out of two different porno movies. Cassandra said something about a plan. What's the plan?"

Richard glanced at Jean-Claude. They exchanged a look between them that said better than words that they'd been plotting behind my back.

Richard sat on the edge of the bed. The shorts clung a little too close for comfort and I had to look away, so I looked at Jean-Claude. Not comforting, but at least most of him was covered.

"Do you remember some months ago, before Christmas, when we accidently set off some sort of magical energy in your apartment?" Jean-Claude asked.

"I remember," I said.

"Monsieur Zeeman and I believe that the three of us could share power, become a triumvirate."

I looked from one to the other. "Explain."

"There is a link between myself and wolves. There is a link between you, my little necromancer, and the dead. Lust and love have always held a magical energy. I can show you individual spells that can use the link between vampire and their animal, between necromancer and vampire. We should not be surprised that there is power between us."

"Make your point," I said.

Jean-Claude smiled. "I believe we could call up enough power to back down a certain Ulfric. I know Marcus. He will not fight if he believes he has no hope of winning."

"Jean-Claude's right," Richard said. "If I can shine with enough power, Marcus will back down."

"How do you know we can even call this whatever-it-is up again?" I asked.

"I have done some research," Jean-Claude said. "There are two cases of master vampires who could call animals, who then made one of those animals in were-form a sort of human servant."

"So?"

"It means that there is a chance of my being able to bind you both."

I shook my head. "No way, no vampire marks. Been there, done that, didn't like it."

"There were no marks on either of you in December," Jean-Claude said. "I think it will work without any now."

"Why are the two of you dressed like that?"

Richard looked embarrassed. "It was all I brought. I thought we were going to be sharing the bed last night."

I motioned at the shorts. "Those would not have helped us stay chaste, Richard."

Heat crept up his face. "I know; sorry."

"Tell me there is no lingerie in your suitcase, ma petite."

"I never said there wasn't." Ronnie had talked me into an outfit just in case I gave in to Richard. She was willing for me to bed him before the wedding if it would knock Jean-Claude out of the running.

"Who'd you buy it for?" Richard asked quietly.

"You, but don't distract me. Why the nice jammies?"

"Richard and I have made an attempt or two on our own to call the power. It does not work with only the two of us. His dislike of me has rendered it useless."

"Is this true, Richard?"

He nodded. "Jean-Claude says we need our third; we need you."

"What's with the clothes?"

"Lust and anger were what drew the

power the first time, ma petite. We have our anger. We are missing our lust."

"Wait just a damn minute." I stared from one to the other of them. "Are you saying we become a menage a trois?"

"No," Richard said. He stood up. He walked towards me in his little shorts, flashing the room. "No sex, I promise you that. Even for this, I wouldn't have agreed to sharing you with him."

I ran my fingertips down the silk of his shorts, lightly, almost like I was afraid. "Then why the costumes?"

"We're running out of time, Anita. If this is going to work, it's got to work fast." He gripped my arms, his hands warm on my skin. "You said you'd help me with a plan. This is the plan."

I drew away from him slowly and turned to Jean-Claude. "And what do you get out of it?"

"Your happiness. No wolf will challenge Richard if we are a true triumvirate."

"My happiness, right." I studied his calm, lovely face, and had an idea. "You tasted Jason, didn't you? You tasted the power that he sucked off of Richard, didn't you? Didn't you, you son of a bitch?" I walked towards him as I talked, fighting an urge to hit him when I got there.

"What of it, ma petite?"

I stood right in front of him, throwing the words into his face. "What do you gain from all this? And don't give me crap about my happiness. I've known you too long."

His face was at its mildest, its most disarming. "I would gain enough power that no master vampire, short of the council itself, would dare challenge me."

"I knew it. I knew it. You don't do anything without a dozen ulterior motives."

"I benefit in exactly the same way Monsier Zeeman benefits. We would both secure our power bases."

"Fine, what do I get out of it?"

"Why, Monsieur Zeeman's safety."

"Anita," Richard said softly. He touched my shoulder.

I whirled to face him. My angry words died at the look on his face. So serious, so solemn.

He gripped my shoulders, one hand cupping the side of my face. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to."

"Do you understand what he's suggesting, Richard? We would never be free of him." I touched his hand where he held my face. "Don't tie us to him like this, Richard. Once he gets a piece of you, he never lets go."

"If you really believed he was evil, you would have killed him a long time ago and been free of him."

If I didn't do this, and Richard died tonight, would I be able to live with it? I leaned into him, pressing my face against his chest, breathing in his scent. No. If he died and I could have saved him, I'd never be rid of the guilt.

Jean-Claude came to stand near us. "It may have been one of those freakish accidents that cannot be duplicated under controlled conditions, ma petite. Magic is often like that."

I turned my face and looked at him, cheek still pressed to Richard's bare chest, his arms wrapped around my back. "No vampire marks on either of us, right?"

"I promise. The only thing I would ask is that none of us back away. We need a true idea of how much power we can call. If it is not much, then it is moot, but if it is as I believe, then it will solve a great many problems."

"You manipulative bastard."

"Is that a yes?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

Richard hugged me. I let his arms hold me, comfort me, but it was Jean-Claude's eyes I met. There was a look on his face that was hard to describe. The devil must look like that after you've signed on the dotted line and given away your soul. Pleased, eager, and a little hungry.

25

"You and Monsieur Zeeman have a nice visit. I will take my turn in the bathroom, then join you."

Just hearing him say it out loud made me want to refuse. But I didn't. "Are you sure this isn't just your elaborate way of forming us into a menage a trois?"

"Would I be so devious?"

"Yeah."

He laughed, and the sound shivered over my skin like an ice cube dropped down my spine.

"I will leave you two alone." He brushed past us into the bathroom.

I stalked after him and caught the door before it could close. He looked at me through the opening. "Yes, ma petite?"

"There better be something under that robe besides skin."

He smiled wide enough to show just a hint of fang. "Would I be so crude, ma petite?"

"I don't know."

He nodded and closed the door.

I took a deep breath and turned to face the other man in my life. Richard's clothes lay folded on my suitcase. He moved towards me. The shorts were slit high enough that I could see almost a clear line from foot to waist.

If we were truly alone, I would have gone to him. What should have been romantic was suddenly chokingly awkward. I was very aware of the sounds of running water from the bathroom. Jean-Claude planned to join us. Sweet Jesus.

Richard still looked scrumptious with his hair falling across one eye. He had stopped moving closer. He finally shook his head. "Why is this suddenly so awkward?"

"I think the biggest reason is in the bathroom getting ready to join us."

He laughed and shook his head again. "It doesn't usually take us this long to be in each other's arms."

"No," I said. At this rate, we were going to be staring at each other like high school kids at a dance when Jean-Claude came back out.

"Meet me halfway," I said.

Richard smiled. "Always." He walked to meet me. The muscles in his stomach rippled as he moved.

I was suddenly sorry that I was wearing jeans and a polo shirt. I wanted him to see me in the lingerie I'd bought. I wanted his hands to run over the silk and my body underneath.

Richard and I stopped inches away from each other, neither one touching. I could smell his aftershave faintly. I was close enough to feel the warmth of his body. I wanted to run my hands over his bare chest. I wanted to run my hands down the front of those silk shorts. The thought was so real I crossed my arms to keep my hands busy.

Richard leaned over me. He ran his lips over my eyebrows, kissed my eyelids ever so gently. He reached my mouth, and I rose on tiptoe to meet him. He slid his arms around me.

I fell against him, my hands searching his body, my mouth pressing against his. He bent and slid his arms under my butt, lifting me until our faces were even. I broke the kiss and started to say, "Put me down," but staring at his face from an inch away, I couldn't say it. I wrapped my legs around his waist. He braced his legs to catch his balance. I kissed him, and the first brush of power broke over me in a line of skin-prickling, belly-tickling warmth.

Richard made a small sound in his throat that was more growl than moan. He knelt on the floor with me still riding him, and when he took me to the floor, I didn't stop him. He raised his upper body over me, bracing with his arms, his lower body pressed against me. When he stared down at me, his eyes had gone wolfish. Something must have shown on my face because he turned his head so I wouldn't see.

I raised up underneath him, grabbed a handful of his thick hair, and turned his head back to me none too gently. Whether it was the pain or something else, he turned back with a snarl. I didn't flinch. I didn't look away.

Richard lowered his face towards mine, and I lay back on the floor. His mouth hovered over mine. There was a brush of warmth as our mouths met, as if I was tasting his energy, his essence.

The bathroom door opened. The sound froze me, making my eyes slide towards the open door. Richard hesitated for a second, mouth uncertain above mine, then he kissed the edge of my chin, running his lips down my neck.

Jean-Claude stood in the doorway, dressed in black silk pajamas. The long-sleeved top was unbuttoned so that it fanned around his naked upper body as he moved. The look on his face, in his eyes, panicked me.

I patted Richard's shoulder. He'd worked his way to the base of my neck and was nuzzling the collar of my polo shirt, as if he'd put his face inside the shirt. He raised those startling amber wolf eyes to me, and the only thing I could read on his face was desire, almost a hunger. His power breathed along my skin like a line of hot wind.

My pulse thudded against the skin of my throat until I thought it would burst the skin. "What's wrong with you, Richard?"

"Tonight is the full moon, ma petite. His beast calls to him." Jean-Claude padded across the carpet towards us.

"Let me up, Richard."

Richard went to his hands and knees, leaving me to squirm out from under him. I stood, and he knelt in front of me, wrapping his arms around my waist. "Don't be afraid."

"I'm not afraid of you, Richard." I stared at Jean-Claude.

Richard ran his hands down my ribs, fingers digging into the flesh as if he were massaging my back. It brought my attention back to him. "I would never hurt you willingly. You know that."

I did know that. I nodded.

"Trust me now." His voice was soft and deep, with a roll of bass to it that wasn't normal. He started pulling my shirt out of my pants. "I want to touch you, smell you, taste you."

Jean-Claude padded around us, not coming any closer. He circled us like a shark. His midnight blue eyes were still human, more human looking than Richard's.

Richard raised my shirt free of my pants, pushing it back until he exposed my stomach. He ran his hands over my bare skin and I shuddered, but it wasn't sex, or not only sex. That warm, electric power of his flowed from his hands across my skin. It was like having a low-level current tracing over me. It didn't quite hurt, but it might if it didn't stop. Or it might feel very good, better than anything else. I wasn't sure which thought scared me more.

Jean-Claude stood just out of reach, watching. That thought scared me, too.

Richard put his hands on either side of my exposed waist, holding the shirt up, draped over his wrists.

Jean-Claude took that last step, pale hand outstretched. I tightened up, fear overriding the remains of desire. He let his hand fall back without touching us.

Richard licked my stomach, a quick, wet motion. I stared down at him, and he stared back with brown eyes. Human eyes. "I won't let anything happen to you, Anita."

I didn't know what it had cost him to swallow his beast back down inside, but I knew it hadn't been easy. There were many lesser lycanthropes who could not go back once they started to change. It would have been more reassuring if his true brown eyes hadn't held a darkness all their own. But it wasn't his beast, it was something more basic, more human: sex. Even lust doesn't cover that look in a man's eyes.

Jean-Claude was standing behind me. I could feel him. Without touching me at all, I could feel his power, like a cool, seeking wind. He brushed his face against my hair. My heart was beating so loudly I couldn't hear anything but the thundering of my own blood in my head.

Jean-Claude brushed my hair to one side. His lips touched my cheek and his power burst over me in a quiet rush, cool as a wind from the grave. It flowed through me, seeking Richard's warmth. The two energies hit, mingled inside me. I couldn't breathe. I felt that thing inside me that could call the dead from the grave--magic, for lack of a better word--I felt it coil and flare against them both.

I tried to pull away from Richard, but his fingers dug into my ribs. Jean-Claude's arms tightened around my shoulders. "Build the power, do not fight it, ma petite."

I fought the panic, my breath coming in quick gasps. I was going to hyperventilate and pass out if I couldn't get a handle on it. I rode the power and my own fear, and I was losing.

Richard's mouth bit gently at my stomach. His mouth sucking my skin. Jean-Claude's lips touched my neck, nibbling gently. His arms cradled me against his chest. Richard was a growing warmth at my waist. Jean-Claude like some cool fire at my back. I was being eaten from both ends like a piece of wood going up in flames. The power was too much. It had to go somewhere. I had to do something with it or it was going to burn me alive.

My legs buckled, and only Richard's and Jean-Claude's hands on me kept me from falling. They lowered me to the floor, still cradled in their arms. My shoulder touched the ground, then my hand, and I knew what I could do with the power. I felt it surge through the ground, seeking, seeking the dead. I rolled onto my stomach. Jean-Claude's hands were on my shoulders, his face brushing mine. Richard's hands were under my shirt touching my back, roaming higher, but it was all secondary. I had to do something with the power.

I found the dead I needed, and it didn't work. The power continued to build until I would have screamed if I could have gotten enough air. A step, an ingredient, something was missing.

I rolled onto my back, staring up at both of them. They stared down at me. Jean-Claude's eyes had gone solid, midnight blue. They both leaned towards me at once. Richard went for my mouth, Jean-Claude went for my neck. Richard's kiss was almost a burning. I could feel the brush of fangs as Jean-Claude fought not to bite me. Temptation was everywhere. Someone's hand was under my shirt, and I wasn't sure whose it was anymore. Then I realized it was both of them.

What was one thing I needed for raising the dead? Blood. I must have said it out loud: "Blood."

Jean-Claude raised up, staring at me from inches away. His hand was just below my breast. I'd grabbed his wrist without thinking about it. "What, ma petite?"

"Blood to finish it. We need blood."

Richard raised his face up like a drowning man. "What?"

"I can give you blood, ma petite." Jean-Claude leaned into me. I stopped him with a hand on his chest, at the same time that Richard put a hand on his shoulder. The power poured over us in a searing wash, and I was seeing white spots.

"You won't use me to sink fangs into her for the first time," Richard growled it at him. His anger fed the magic and I screamed.

"Give me blood, or get off me." I held up my own wrist between them. "I don't have a knife, someone do it."

Richard leaned over me. He swept his hair back from one side of his neck. "Here's your blood."

Jean-Claude didn't argue. He leaned into him, lips drawn back. I watched in a sort of slow motion as he bit the side of Richard's neck. Richard tensed, a hiss of breath as the fangs sank home. Jean-Claude's mouth sealed over his skin, sucking, throat working.

The power roared through me, raising every hair on my body, creeping through my skin until I thought I'd come apart. I sent it all outward to the dead that I'd found. I filled them up and still there was too much power. I reached outward, outward, and found what I was looking for. The power left us in a cool, burning, rush.

I lay gasping on the floor. Jean-Claude lay on my left, propped on one elbow. Blood stained his lips, trickling down his chin. Richard lay on his stomach to my right, pinning my arm underneath his cheek. His chest rose and fell in great gasps, sweat glistening along his spine.

The world was gold-edged, almost floating. Sound returned slowly, and it was like I was listening down a long tube.

Jean-Claude licked the blood from his lips, wiping a shaking hand across his chin, licking the hand clean. He lay down beside me, one hand across my stomach, his head cradled on my shoulder. His bare chest and stomach lay across my arm. His skin was almost hot, feverish. He'd never felt like that before. His heart pounded against my skin like a captive bird.

His hair fell against my face. It smelled of some exotic shampoo and of him. He gave a shaky laugh and said, "It was glorious for me, was it good for you, ma petite?"

I swallowed, and was too tired to even laugh. "Trust you to know just what to say."

Richard raised himself up on his elbows. Blood trickled down his neck where two neat fang marks showed. I touched the bite mark, and my fingers came away stained crimson.

"Does it hurt?" I asked.

"Not really." He grabbed my wrist, gently, licking the blood off my fingers, sucking them clean.

Jean-Claude's strangely warm hand caressed my stomach under my shirt. He undid the button of my pants.

"Don't even think it," I said.

"Too late, ma petite." He bent and kissed me. I could taste the metallic sweetness of Richard's blood on his tongue. I rose up to meet him, pushing at his mouth. I'd asked for the blood, not either of them. The truth was, we weren't done with the bloodletting today. Whatever I'd called from the grave had to be put back. That would take blood, fresh blood. The only question was who would donate it and how would it be gathered. Oh, one more question, how much blood would we need?