"Are you going to be in that bathtub all night, mon ami?" Asher asked Jean-Claude, placing his hands on his hips, his voice
edged with impatience. "You're driving me insane with all this moping."
From his watery retreat, Jean-Claude opened his eyes to look up at Asher. His face betrayed nothing of what he was feeling
and his gaze was as empty as if he were staring at a wall.
"You have been sulking in there an hour already," the tall, blonde vampire pointed out. "I would also like to bathe sometime
Jean-Claude shifted his legs closer to the opposite side of the bathtub.
"There is plenty of room," he murmured. "Climb in and I will wash your back for you. Then you can wash mine."
Looking somewhat startled by the unexpected offer, Asher took a small step back. But his gaze longingly swept down the
length of Jean-Claude's slick, naked body--drinking in the sight of him reclining against the black marble, covered in the
warm sudsy water which lapped sensuously at his white skin. Few would have refused the invitation to join him, but Asher resolutely
shook his head.
"Don't tease me, Jean-Claude," he half-threatened, half-begged.
For one, fleeting moment, Jean-Claude knew Asher had been truly tempted. The scent of Asher's desire mingled with the heady
smell of the soap and sea salts that permeated the steamy bathroom. It filled Jean-Claude with remorse and shame.
"I am sorry, Asher," he quickly apologized, offering him a truly penitent expression. "I think I'm feeling a little spiteful
Asher moved closer, but from the look on his face, he apparently was not about to let his friend off the hook that easily.
"This is not a good time for you to be tempting fate, mon ami. You are already in enough trouble with Anita as it is."
Sighing heavily, Jean-Claude bowed his head and submerged himself deeper in the water, feeling as though the weight of
his depression was making him sink.
"Again," he amended. "I've managed to get myself in trouble with her again. But this time it was not entirely of my own
doing. How did I know that reporter was going to quote me on the six o'clock news? Why are they so obsessed with my sex life
anyway? Imagine, asking me if I was still sleeping with Anita. What business is that of theirs?"
Asher passed his hand over his face to wipe away the inappropriate smile that threatened. "Yes, but when you told him you
know she sleeps with you because she snores, was slightly declasse, mon ami. Women do not care to have such things made known
Jean-Claude slapped the water in frustration. "I was just being facetious because he was being so crude. I know she would
not have preferred me to be forthright with him about such a thing. And now she is angry with me. If I had a dime for every
time Anita has been angry with me, I would be--"
"A very rich man," Asher finished for him, and sat down on the ledge of the tub, tucking his robe in around his thighs.
"You are a rich man, mon ami. In case you have not noticed."
Jean-Claude peered up at him, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Perhaps those dimes were deposited after all,"
he replied, sitting up, and drawing his knees to his chest. He wrapped his arms around his shins and leaned his chin on his
arm, his mood sobering once more. "You would think, by now, I would have learned something."
Tentatively, Asher leaned over and touched Jean-Claude's hair, brushing a damp tendril from his cheek.
"Don't be so hard on yourself. Anita is a difficult woman to figure out sometimes. She is complex and her personality has
many intricate layers. She is, without a doubt, unlike any woman I have ever known. I love her, but I don't even begin to
try to understand her."
Jean-Claude turned his head and nuzzled Asher's hand. He grasped it with both of his and squeezed it gently before turning
away and reclining back in the water again. He closed his eyes and sighed.
"It has been three days," he lamented. "And she still hasn't called."
Asher took a deep breath and rose off the ledge of the tub. "I know, but you cannot spend another night pining away by
the phone. I won't let you. In fact, I am giving you ten more minutes, then I'm coming in after you whether you like it or
not," he declared, turning his back on the other vampire. "We're getting out of here tonight. We're going to go someplace
where we can have a little fun and get your mind off of Anita for awhile." He stalked over to the door, then paused and glanced
over his shoulder. "Ten minutes, mon ami." With that, he turned and walked out, closing the door behind him.
Asher didn't bother waiting for the bathtub. Instead, he returned to his own rooms and showered there. He dressed quickly
in dark gray slacks and a pale blue shirt, comfortable but chic.
Somewhat preoccupied with trying to think of just where he and Jean-Claude should go, Asher made his way back to Jean-Claude's
quarters. He didn't realize little Valentina was walking beside him until she sighed softly, and nearly scared him out of
Asher stared down at her, somewhat dumbfounded, placing his hand over his heart to steady its erratic beating.
"Valentina, where did you come from?" he said rather breathlessly.
The girl looked up at him. "My rooms," she said simply, continuing alongside Asher, matching the longer-legged vampire
stride for stride.
"Are you on your way to see Jean-Claude?"
Valentina fixed her gaze forward and nodded. "This is the way to his chambers, is it not?"
In the short time she had been in America, she had already adopted a rather casual fashion sense. Tonight she was wearing
low rider jeans, sandals, and a frilly paisley peasant top which made her look like any other typical pre-teen caught wandering
a mall on a Saturday afternoon. It was a deceptively innocent look and made her appear far less intimidating than Asher knew
Asher took a deep, measured breath. "You know, if there is anything you need, you can tell me, and I will be happy to relay
it to Jean-Claude. We both want your time with us to be pleasant for you."
The girl scowled fiercely. "Pleasant," she sneered. "Oh, I can assure you, everything here is more than pleasant. Pleasant
to the point of being sickening."
Asher raised his brow. Clearly the girl was in a miserable mood. "Is there anything wrong, Mademoiselle?"
Valentina nodded. "There's nothing to do here," she complained. "I mean, what does Jean-Claude do all night long? He doesn't
entertain. No dinners or parties." She stopped walking and placed her hands petulantly on her shapeless hips. "I told him
he was more than welcome to utilize my services and you know what he said?"
Trying not to shudder at the thought, Asher simply shook his head.
"He said he had no need for my services. Can you imagine such a thing?"
Asher shrugged diplomatically. "I am certain he did not mean to insult you. It is just that Jean-Claude prefers to exact
discipline on his people in his own way."
"And what way is that?" Valentina went on, throwing up her hands in obvious frustration. "I haven't seen him torture anybody
the entire time I've been here. How does he pass the time?"
Dragging his hand through his hair to push it off the left side of his face, Asher licked his lips apprehensively.
"Well...he simply minds his business, literally and figuratively speaking. He governs the city, his territory, and his
people. He interacts very closely with the local shapeshifters. He's a very busy man."
The child vampire started walking again, her stride even more determined than before.
"So he just works all the time?" she persisted.
"No...not ALL the time," Asher replied. "He...goes out. To night clubs and concerts, or the theater. Sometimes restaurants.
Valentina frowned. "He dates?" She sighed. "I didn't realize he still dated. Every time I see him, he's with his servant."
Struggling to maintain his patience, Asher gnawed his lower lip and looked away from her, pretending to study the placement
of stones in the wall.
"Well, he dates her," he said flatly.
At that, Valentina made a face. "Just her? Night after night? I would think that would get tiresome for him."
"They don't go out every night."
The girl peered up at him curiously, raising her fair brow in an unspoken question.
Asher was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the direction this conversation was heading however. He reminded himself
that Valentina was not the innocent little girl she appeared to be. Her mind was mature, even if her body wasn't. He took
a deep breath.
"More often than not," he began, "when they get together, they simply have sex."
The child vampire nodded thoughtfully. "Of course. I know he lives off that, the way he lives off blood. But is it always
with her? I find it hard to believe she alone keeps him satisfied. He has never been exactly monogamous before."
Asher felt the first stirrings of his temper rise. "He is in love with her. He is monogamous now because he chooses to
be--because he is allowed to be."
"I don't understand that," Valentina admitted, shaking her head.
Asher frowned. He was sure whatever the girl wanted with Jean-Claude tonight would only blacken his mood further. She had
already succeeded in blackening his, and she had just happened upon him in the hall.
"Valentina, if I may," Asher hurriedly went on. "Let me go on ahead of you. It just occurred to me, that this early in
the evening, Jean-Claude is typically in the bath. Allow me, if you would, to go to him and inform him of your...impending
arrival. That way, he can more suitably receive you."
Valentina stopped walking and folded her arms across her chest. "Very well," she agreed. "I will wait here awhile so you
can tell him I'm coming."
Asher readily nodded and executed a little departing bow to her. Then he turned and strode down the hall until he turned
the corner out of Valentina's sight. He all but ran the rest of the way to Jean-Claude's rooms, wanting not only to inform
him of the girl's intention, but to get him away long before she showed up at his door.
"Jean-Claude, you better be out of that damnable bathtub," Asher muttered under his breath as he burst through the door,
not bothering to knock.
To his surprise and relief, not only was Jean-Claude out of the tub, he was fully dressed. He peered up at his friend curiously
as Asher hurried towards him.
"Valentina's on her way here," Asher stated, gathering Jean-Claude into his arms and herding him out the door.
"Oh, please, not tonight," Jean-Claude moaned. "The very last thing I want to do is listen to her drone on and on about
Mussette and Belle and how she misses them, and Europe, and her tidy little torture chamber."
"With any luck, mon ami," Asher went on, "you won't have to."
Jean-Claude raised his brow. "Non?"
Asher laughed smugly. "If we want to get out of here before dawn, we should leave right now. She is waiting in the outer
hall for you to make yourself presentable. I told her you were in the bath, and volunteered to go on ahead and inform you
of her little visit."
"Je t'adore, Asher," Jean-Claude murmured with a sly grin. "I owe you a debt of gratitude for this."
Asher flashed a smile. "You can thank me later. Now, we need a place to hide until we can make a clean escape."
Jean-Claude slipped ahead of Asher in the hall. He bid him to follow with a slow, graceful wave of his hand, and turned
a corner down a passage which looped around his chambers. He stopped abruptly in front of a rather non-descript door and knocked
"Jason?" he whispered loudly, and knocked again. "Jason?"
The werewolf opened his door a moment later.
Jean-Claude's hand was poised to knock again. He quickly lowered it, and straightened slightly, sparing a glance at Asher
standing behind him. Neither vampire waited to be invited in. They both squeezed around the puzzled shapeshifter into his
"Quick," Asher said. "Close the door." He took up a position beside Jean-Claude as Jason shut the door, then turned around
to face his unexpected guests.
"What's going on?" Jason asked. "I was just about to head out to the gym, but if you need me for something, I can hang
around for awhile." His eyes flitted from one vampire to the other.
"We are hiding," Asher explained.
"From Valentina," Jean-Claude added.
Jason continued staring at the vampires as if he wasn't sure they were telling him the truth or not. Once he decided they
were serious, he burst out laughing.
"Well, hey, you came to the right place," he said with a lop-sided grin. "If you can't depend on your pomme de sang to
protect you from a little girl, then who can you depend on?"
Asher and Jean-Claude exchanged glances.
"You do not know her the way we do, my wolf," Jean-Claude began indignantly. "She is malicious and deadly."
Jason only laughed harder. "I can't believe what I'm hearing here. The two of you--the most powerful vampires in the city--hiding
in the dark from a little kid." He gestured at the door. "Let me give you a small piece of advice, Jean-Claude. She starts
acting up, you just take her over your knee. What's the big deal?"
Again the two vampires turned and looked at one another. Then they simultaneously looked at Jason.
Asher crossed his arms over his chest. "That, I would like to see."
Jean-Claude took a small step forward. He kept his eyes on Jason, but spoke to Asher. "I just may have come up with an
excellent solution to our little problem with Valentina, mon ami. You know as well as I do how terribly bored she has been...."
"I do indeed," Asher said, raising his brow in comprehension. "As a matter of fact, when I spoke with her tonight, she
told me she wasn't feeling very useful. I fear if we don't give her something constructive to do soon, she's liable to get
into all kinds of mischief."
Jean-Claude nodded thoughtfully. "And continue to aggravate us with her incessant complaining." He paused and addressed
his pomme de sang now. "Perhaps you wouldn't mind keeping dear Valentina entertained for us this evening," he said, his voice
becoming deep and somewhat ominous-sounding. "I am certain she would appreciate having someone to...play with, for awhile."
Asher smiled devilishly and started towards the door. "I will go find her, and tell her."
Jason backed up against the door, intercepting the blonde vampire and barring his way out. "Now, let's not get hasty about
this," he suggested, his eyes growing wide. "I was just giving you guys a hard time. Don't go getting all bent out of shape
Jean-Claude stared intensely at Jason. "But you would be doing me a tremendous favor, mon ami," he continued quietly. "If
she becomes a little too rambunctious for you, why, all you have to do is simply take her over your knee."
Asher nodded in agreement. "If she does not break them first," he teased. "But at least torturing you would give her something
to do tonight while Jean-Claude and I go out."
Jason licked his lips apprehensively and forced a shaky smile. "Come on. You're not serious, are you?" He looked from one
vampire to the other, his face paling somewhat at their deadpan expressions.
Jean-Claude shrugged noncommittally. "Maybe. Push me too far tonight, my wolf, and you will see just how serious I am."
His smile withering, Jason turned to Asher, keeping a wary eye on his master. "Cripes. What's got into him?"
Shifting away from the door, Asher went to Jean-Claude and put his arm around him, patting his back soothingly as if he
were a fussing child. Jean-Claude leaned against him and sighed heavily.
"Do not worry about him, mon ami. You just caught him in a bad mood," Asher whispered as if relaying some deep, dark secret.
"He is feeling spiteful. Anita is pissed at him because of what he said to that journalist about her, and has not called in
three days. I'm taking him out tonight to cheer him up."
Jason's expression brightened considerably. "Did I hear you say you were going out?"
Facing Jean-Claude, Jason grinned, but his tone, when he spoke, was sympathetic. "Well no wonder you're in a touchy mood.
Anita's got you in the doghouse, huh?" He rubbed his hands together enthusiastically. "Well, don't you worry. Good ole Jason
knows just where to go to help a guy deal with those doghouse blues."
Asher chuckled deeply. "The voice of experience," he murmured.
Jean-Claude peered at Jason warily.
"Trust me," Jason stressed, clearly pleased he'd managed to get the vampires' mind off of handing him over to Valentina.
"You guys hang out here, make yourselves comfortable, and give me a minute to change, all right?"
Without waiting for a reply, the young werewolf promptly disappeared into the adjoining room and began shuffling through
"Besides," Jason continued, raising his voice slightly. "You'll need a driver for the night. It would only make sense to
take me along."
Jean-Claude looked at Asher. "He is right in that respect."
Asher shrugged. "I do not mind." He walked around the room, inspecting Jason's sparse furnishings while they waited for
him to finish dressing. "We might as well get some use out of him tonight."
"Super!" Jason gushed, coming out of the other room to rejoin the vampires. He had changed out of his sweats and into a
pair of tight black pants and a black leather vest, gelled his short blonde hair into tousled spikes and sprayed on some musky-smelling
The two vampires looked him over. Asher raised his brow, intrigued. Jean-Claude frowned.
"Just where are you planning on taking us?" he asked, reaching over to pinch at the black leather of Jason's vest.
Jason drew up behind Jean-Claude and gathered his long hair up into his hands. "Just to one of those little out of the
way clubs I found recently. It's new, but it's a sure hot spot. You'll love it, I promise."
Jean-Claude twisted his head around to look behind him. Jason was still stroking his hair. "What are you doing back there?"
"Relax," he urged. "I was just thinking, you might want to go there incognito. It would help to do something different
with your hair. You know, braid it, or put it up, or something you don't normally do. And wear some sunglasses. You're way
too recognizable like this, and you just never know where the press is lurking these days. You don't want to be hounded by
reporters all night, do you? Not to mention those goth chicks and groupies of yours."
"Mmm, he's right, mon ami," Asher agreed. "And the paparazzi is everywhere. Don't make it easy for them. You need to steer
clear of the press for awhile."
Jean-Claude sighed. "Very well, carry on," he consented and crossed his arms over his chest. "This will have to do, however.
I don't own a pair of sunglasses. I do not know of any vampire who does."
With an amiable grin, Jason gestured at a little plastic basket on a shelf by the bedroom door. "Asher pick him out some
shades," he told him, busily weaving Jean-Claude's long hair into a single, tight braid down his back.
The blonde vampire put his hands on his hips. "Won't that look a little odd? Sunglasses at night?" He glided over to the
shelf however, and started searching through Jason's collection of eyewear.
"Nah," the shapeshifter reassured. "It's all part of the look now. It's all about fashion. It has nothing to do with practicality."
Shrugging, Asher sorted through the glasses and picked a pair out, inspected it, and handed it to Jean-Claude.
"Wasn't that a song once?" Jean-Claude asked belatedly, accepting the eyewear from Asher and trying them on. "Sunglasses
Asher snorted. "I would not know, mon ami. People sing about anything these days." He stepped back to appraise his friend's
appearance. "Ah, very nice."
Jason leaned around Jean-Claude's shoulder to see for himself. "Oh yeah. Can't go wrong with Ray Bans." He finished braiding
Jean-Claude's hair and tied it off with a yellow elastic band. "By the way, you realize we're going to have to take your car.
My 'vette only seats two people."
"The limousine?" Jean-Claude asked, removing the sunglasses and peering over at the young werewolf. "I thought the whole
point of this was to be inconspicuous?"
Shrugging, Jason stepped in front of the master vampire and clasped his hands together behind his back, striking an unassuming
"C'mon, Jean-Claude. Now a days, limos are commonplace. No one will look twice. Don't you want to ride in style?"
Asher grinned and gestured at Jason. "With a chauffeur dressed like that, I doubt anyone will think we are too terribly
Jean-Claude fought not to smile. He reached over and brushed his knuckle down Jason's cheek with obvious affection. "We
can take the limousine," he agreed, placating him.
Jason grinned ear to ear. "All right then!" He looked from Asher to Jean-Claude, then suddenly frowned and made a face,
shaking his head. "Ah, one more thing, Jean-Claude. That shirt. It's got to go."
Jean-Claude looked down at the shirt he was wearing as if he needed a reminder as to which one he had put on. It was one
of his numerous white, lacey shirts that tied at the throat.
"What is wrong with my shirt?"
Catching the impatience in the master vampire's tone, Jason held up his hands. "Nothing, nothing. It's just that...well,
you're kind of known for wearing stuff like that. You need something a little more mainstream."
"I am not about to return to my rooms," Jean-Claude told him. "Valentina could still be there."
Jason shook his head. "No. You won't have to. I think I've got something here that will fit you."
"Mon Dieu," Asher muttered. "I can only imagine."
Jean-Claude tugged at the collar of his shirt to loosen the knot at his throat. "Go and get it then," he told Jason. "I
suppose this is only fair. I have manipulated your attire enough times to suit my purposes and tastes." He unbuttoned the
shirt while Jason quickly skipped off into the other room to sort through his closet.
The werewolf returned just as the vampire was pulling off his shirt. He hurried up to him, clutching what appeared to be
a sleeveless, black tee-shirt. He handed it to Jean-Claude somewhat tentatively.
"Everything else may be a little too snug, I'm afraid," Jason lamented. "But this will work."
Jean-Claude held it up to look at it, then shoved it back at Jason in disgust.
"A tee-shirt? You expect me to wear a tee-shirt? Have I taught you nothing about fine clothes?"
"It's not a tee-shirt, it's an A-shirt and it's a Calvin Klein," Jason argued.
Jean-Claude frowned. "What is the difference? 'A rose by any other name, would still smell as sweet,'" he quoted.
Jason looked towards Asher for help.
The blonde vampire diplomatically cleared his throat. "It is the last thing anyone who knows you would expect you to wear,
Jean-Claude," Asher advised. "Remember, you want to go incognito. You don't want to be recognized."
Begrudgingly, Jean-Claude accepted the shirt from his pomme de sang and pulled it over his head.
"Well, I definitely do not wish to be recognized now," he grumbled, loosening his belt and tucking the hem of the shirt
into his pants. "All I need is a pack of Marlboros and a tattoo to make this look complete."
"Sorry, I don't smoke," Jason pointed out.
Jean-Claude looked over at him and scowled.
Asher came towards him and brushed some imaginary lint from his shoulder. "No need to pout so, mon ami," he told Jean-Claude
and smiled. The soft cotton of the black shirt fit him snugly, hugging every shapely curve of the vampire's sinewy torso,
accenting his long, slender frame and small tapered waist. The neckline of the shirt was cut low enough to show a smattering
of his dark chest hair and the lack of sleeves enticingly displayed the well-defined muscles of his arms. Asher sighed wistfully
"In all truth, you look very sexy dressed like that."
Jean-Claude's expression softened. "I do?"
Jason quickly nodded in agreement. "He's right. I hate to admit it, but you do a hell of a lot more for that shirt than
I ever did. You might as well keep it now. I'll never wear it again."
At that, the master vampire grinned. "Small compensation for having to subject myself to such an indignity, but compensation
nonetheless." He paused and gestured at the door. "Now that I finally meet with your approval, shall we be off?"
"No doubt Valentina has gone by now. This would be an ideal time to leave," Asher said. "But I would still advise we get
above as quickly as possible. Just in case."
Jason stepped forward and opened the door a crack, and peered out, sniffing the air. He glanced back over his shoulder
"Coast is clear, boss. Now's our chance." He threw open the door and slipped out, waving to the two vampires to follow.
No sooner had the trio reached the arcane wooden door leading out into the Circus of the Damned when they felt the brush
of a familiar presence on the other side.
Jason and Jean-Claude exchanged glances as Asher pulled the door open. Richard stood before them, looking as surprised
to see them there, as they were to see him.
"Going somewhere?" the Ulfric guessed, eyeing them coolly. He did a quick double-take when his eyes fell upon Jean-Claude.
"You know, Halloween's a good five months away, Jean-Claude. What's with the get up?"
Looking down his nose at the rather shabbily attired werewolf king, Jean-Claude put his hands on his hips and frowned.
Much to the vampire's chagrin, Richard looked regal and impressive, even in his worn and faded blue-jeans, and fraying denim
shirt. A look Jean-Claude knew he could probably never pull off with the same degree of success.
"What do you want, Richard?" Jean-Claude asked him, impatiently. "You are right. We were just on our way out."
Richard furrowed his brow. "I'm not stopping you. But I do need to talk to you before tomorrow night, and you're not exactly
accessible during the day."
Jean-Claude lowered his sunglasses on the bridge of his nose and peered over the top of them. "Is this going to take very
The werewolf shrugged. "I don't know. It depends. I just wanted to run a few ideas by you. I think I took care of all the
loopholes in my latest by-law amendment, but I'd like you to tell me what you think before I present it to the pack at the
lupanar tomorrow." He paused and licked his lips. "I tried calling Anita first, but she's not answering her phone."
Jean-Claude sighed heavily. "Yes, I know."
"Perhaps," Asher began, speaking to the Ulfric, "you could simply come with us. You and Jean-Claude could discuss this
matter in the car on the way."
"The more the merrier," Jason added.
"Sure, I'm game," Richard told them, with a casual shrug.
All eyes were on Jean-Claude now. He looked at each of his companions in turn, then pursed his lips, and focused his attention
"Very well," the vampire said, resigned. "But if it is all the same to you, I'd rather not spend the entire night discussing
pack by-laws with you."
Clearly taken aback by the vampire's petulant tone, Richard's jaw fell open in surprise and he shook his head.
"Try not to sound so enthused," he sneered. "You know I wouldn't have come to you with ordinary pack business, but you're
the one who suggested this amendment in the first place. You're the one who likes to keep his fingers in all the pies around
here. You should be pleased I've decided to give you a say in this at all." Richard paused his ranting and took a deep, steadying
breath. "What's the matter, Jean-Claude? Did you wake up on the wrong side of the coffin tonight?"
Waving his hand dismissively through the air, Asher faced Richard. "Go easy on him tonight, Richard. He's not in the best
of moods. Didn't you see the six o'clock newscast Tuesday? That little interview Jean-Claude gave, put him in the 'doghouse'
with you-know-who. Jason and I are taking him out on the town to get his mind off of his woes."
Jean-Claude shot Asher a scathing look. "Why don't you just save your breath, mon ami, and issue a follow-up press release,"
he growled. "You could spread the news much quicker that way."
Unfazed, Asher merely smiled. "See?"
That bit of news seemed to lighten the Ulfric's temper significantly. Richard chuckled, clearly amused.
"In the doghouse! Imagine that!" he teased, but seemed to be regarding the master vampire with newfound empathy. "Well,
don't take it so hard, Jean-Claude. We've all done time in Anita's doghouse."
Jason cleared his throat. "I've never--"
Asher and Richard glared at him, cutting him off. Jason apparently got the hint and started across the parking lot towards
the limo without another word. The others trailed after him.
"So, she'll just avoid you for a few days," Richard consoled Jean-Claude, putting his hand on his shoulder. "At least you're
not on her permanent shit-list like I am."
Jean-Claude shook his head, his gaze fixed on the Ulfric's hand in somewhat of a daze. Richard normally made a point never
to touch him, and the fact he was doing so now out of some distorted sense of male camaraderie made the vampire feel the need
"You are not on that list either, Richard," Jean-Claude replied rather breathily.
Letting his arm slip off the vampire's shoulder, the shapeshifter straightened and lengthened his stride, moving ahead
"Yeah, right," he mumbled. "She just avoids me like the plague."
Asher stepped in between Richard and Jean-Claude and shook his finger at them admonishingly. "The whole point of this outing
is to try to forget our troubles with the fairer sex. Therefore, I do not want to hear another word on the subject."
Richard glanced back at Asher and grinned. "Don't tell me. You too, Asher?"
Asher jerked his thumb in Jean-Claude's direction. "You forget, mon ami. When she refuses him, I don't get any either."
"And when she's avoiding those two, I might as well not even exist," Jason put in. "So, all of us are kind of in the same
boat at the moment--sex-wise." Walking around the limousine, Jason dutifully opened the back doors for his passengers and
waved them inside. He closed the doors after them and climbed into the driver's seat, popping on the chauffeur's hat beside
him and tilting it at a rakish angle. He turned the ignition and lowered the screen behind him. "But what better opportunity
for a boys' night out, eh?" he continued, enthusiastically. "A chance to just be our naturally crude, boorish selves for a
change. So sit back, my friends, and prepare yourselves for a wild and woolly night a' la Schuyler."
Rolling his eyes, Asher leaned forward and poked the young werewolf sharply with his finger. "Just drive already," he grumbled.
"We're not getting any younger back here."
Jason laughed. "All right! We're going! Take it easy! Boys' night out, remember? Yeehaw!" With that, he shifted gears and
peeled out of the parking lot.
While Jean-Claude and Richard discussed the amendment he was proposing to the lukoi tomorrow night, Asher contented himself
by gazing out the window at the passing scenery. A familiar figure coming out of a dry cleaning business to his left caught
his attention. Asher grinned and tapped Jason on the shoulder.
"Stop the car," he ordered. "Pull over."
"What's the matter?" Jason asked, easing the limousine alongside the curb.
Jean-Claude and Richard stopped talking and peered out the window in the direction Asher was indicating.
"That's Micah," Richard announced needlessly.
Jason tapped the horn a couple of times until Micah looked their way.
Shifting his sunglasses to the top of his head, Jean-Claude rolled down the window as the Nimir-Raj crossed the street
with his bundle of dry cleaning, and approached the beckoning limousine warily.
"Pardonnez moi, Monsieur," Jean-Claude hailed. "Would you happen to have the time?"
When Micah recognized who had summoned him, he smiled and visibly relaxed, turning to wave behind him at Merle, who was
sitting in the driver's seat of a car parked just outside the dry cleaners.
"I can always make time for you, Jean-Claude," the wereleopard greeted with a sly wink. "What's up?" He peered in the back
seat of the limo at it's unlikely assortment of occupants.
"Oh, we are merely venturing out to sample some of the night life, so to speak," the vampire explained. He gestured at
his companions. "My friends have taken it upon themselves to keep me from moping by the phone another night waiting for Anita
Micah nodded. "Oh yeah. So I heard," he replied. "Anita's been anything but cheerful lately, and if it's any consolation,
she's been moping too. She was going to call you a couple of times, but never went through with it. I guess she figures you
haven't been punished enough for your little indiscretion."
"Anita has been moping as well?" Jean-Claude repeated and grinned. "Why yes, I find that quite consoling." He gestured
at the wrapped dry-cleaning Micah held. "Is that a suit? Did you have plans for this evening? If not, you are welcome to join
our little soiree. As Jason is fond of saying, the more the merrier."
At that, Micah bowed his head and looked somewhat chagrined. "Well, no. Actually these are Anita's. She asked me to run
some errands for her tonight. I don't have anything else planned, actually."
Richard shook his head admonishingly. "She has you picking up her dry cleaning now?" the Ulfric taunted, catching the wereleopard's
discomfort. "Watch out, Micah. Next she'll have you running to the supermarket to buy tampons."
"Well...she's working tonight," Micah quickly explained, "and the place closes at ten. She wanted these for the weekend,
so I offered to get them for her."
Jean-Claude leaned forward. "Don't listen to him, mon ami. You are a good man. Your heart is in the right place."
"His heart may be, but his balls seemed to have disappeared," Richard teased.
Micah faced the Ulfric. "I'm happy to do these things for her."
Jason snapped an imaginary whip through the air, accompanied by a distinct cracking sound which made everyone inside the
limo burst out laughing at Micah's expense. Asher reached out and snatched the plastic bundle of clothes from the reddening
"And what was so important for her to have, it couldn't wait until Monday?" the blonde vampire asked, opening the package
and peering inside. He reached down and pulled out a black lace teddy, a satin robe, and a gray silk camisole.
A heavy silence suddenly fell over the occupants of the limo as they eyed the slinky lingerie.
Jason whistled through his teeth. "Well, I guess we know what she has planned for the weekend."
They all turned as one and looked at Micah. He grinned slyly, relieving Asher of the dry cleaning bag and its contents.
"I may be somewhat whipped, but I can proudly say I am the only one among you who will be welcomed into her bed tonight."
All the men inside the limousine shifted uncomfortably. Asher groaned and shook his head.
"Who are we kidding? We are all...whipped."
Richard cleared his throat loudly. "Well, I'm not, and I say if we are going, let's hit the road. I could go for a cold
beer right now."
Jean-Claude smiled at him indulgently. "And a cold shower, perhaps?" He turned and faced Micah. "Come with us. Take advantage
of this rare opportunity of self-indulgence we so seldom get."
Micah chewed on his lower lip indecisively.
Jason gestured towards the backseat of the limo. "C'mon. There's plenty of room. I promise I'll get you home before the
coach turns into a pumpkin," he urged.
Asher moved to the other side of the seat to make room for the Nimir-Raj. "Jason has promised us a wild and woolly time.
Live a little, mon ami, while you are still alive."
Finally, Micah nodded. "All right. What the hell," he agreed. "Just let me send my second home with the goods." He turned
then, and strode back across the street to the car parked in front of the dry cleaners.
When he returned to the limousine, Jason hopped out of the driver's seat and opened the door for him, ushering him inside.
The wereleopard took his place beside Asher and leaned back into the luxurious upholstery with a contented sigh.
"So, where are we going?" he asked, peering over his shoulder at Jason as he resumed his duty as driver.
Everyone shrugged, but Jason grinned and pulled out into the street. "Don't you worry," he assured his passengers once
more. "You guys are gonna love this place."
Staring out the window at the marquee blazing garishly above them, Jean-Claude shook his head for the tenth time, fairly
mortified. Richard was arguing with Jason, Asher was fighting hard not to laugh, and Micah was huddled beside him, refusing
to even acknowledge the fact they had stopped where they had.
"What were you thinking?" Richard chided his pack member. "This place is a dive."
"But it's boys' night out," Jason countered. "Look, it might not look like much on the outside, but this is a very classy
joint. What better way to shake it all off than this?"
"I take it you've been here before?" Micah asked the young werewolf.
Jason nodded. "Oh yeah. It's hot."
"Totally nude, live and on-stage," Asher read, peering over Micah's shoulder out the window. "Girls, girls, girls."
"I cannot go in there," Jean-Claude whispered. He looked up at the lighted marquee again and cringed. "The press will have
a veritable field day if I'm discover in there, and then Anita will not speak to me for a year. If I am lucky, and she's feeling
charitable, that is."
Richard frowned. "For one, Anita's not going to find out about you being here," he assured. "And two, even in the unlikely
event she did, all you have to do is tell her the truth. Your misguided, but utterly devoted pals brought you here to just
have a good time. She'll understand that. Friendship and devotion she understands completely."
Jean-Claude peered over at the Ulfric curiously, struck by his choice of words. "Thank you, Richard," he said quietly.
"Should that particular unlikely event arise, I will keep your advice in mind." He paused and shook his head for the eleventh
time. "I don't know. No. I can't."
Jason sighed. "Relax. That's why I suggested the disguise. No one is going to recognize you. Not from a distance, anyway."
Richard leaned over and nudged the stricken vampire with his elbow. "Really, Jean-Claude, what's the worse they could say?--estranged
from servant, the Master of St. Louis seeks therapy with professional lap dance."
Micah glanced over at the werewolf and frowned. "Oh, they could say a lot worse than that. If someone recognizes him--"
"No one will recognize him," Asher said, cutting the Nimir-Raj off. "This isn't exactly as 'out of the way' as Jason stated,
but I doubt there are any reporters waiting to ambush us from behind the bushes here. If we simply act casual about this,
anyone who sees us will simply think we are typical red-blooded American men out to have a good time."
Jason nodded encouragingly at Jean-Claude. "You said you wanted to get your mind off Anita. Well, here you go. You've got
a whole bevy of beauties in there you can sink your teeth into." He paused and cleared his throat, catching his pun. "Uh,
well, so to speak."
Jean-Claude looked over at the young werewolf in disbelief.
"How is ogling naked women all night supposed to take my mind off Anita?" the vampire spouted indignantly. "Seeing a naked
woman makes me think of sex, and since Anita is the only person on the face of the earth I am allowed to have sex with, I
tend to think of her when I think of sex."
Jason slumped back in his seat. "Well, gentlemen, one way or another, we're going to have to make up our minds. I'm holding
up traffic here."
Micah sat up and looked at each of the men in turn. "I say we go for it." Everyone stared back at him in surprise. Micah
grinned and reached for the door. "I'll show you who's whipped."
Richard grinned and nodded. Asher chuckled with glee. Fighting hard not to smile, Jean-Claude finally shrugged, resigned.
Jason howled and bounded out of the driver's seat to open the doors for his passengers. "Boys' night out! Boys' night out!"
he chanted as one by one the men filed out of the limousine and headed for the strip club. "I'm going to go park this baby,"
Jason added, sliding back into the driver's seat. "I'll meet you inside."
Asher and Micah turned and gave Jason an acknowledging wave. Jean-Claude and Richard faced each other, took a simultaneous
breath in anticipation, and pulled open the heavy double doors.
"Geez, it's dark enough in here," Richard noted, paying the thirty dollar cover charge and moving to stand beside Asher.
"For this kind of money, they better have the stage well lit."
Loud music thudded just beyond another set of double doors. Micah inched towards them and opened them a crack to peek inside.
The music suddenly blared inside the tiny room.
Jean-Claude took off the sunglasses and hooked them on the front of his shirt. He joined Micah at the door, peering over
his head inside the main room. Asher drew up beside him, fluffing his hair and carefully arranging it over his face to conceal
his scars. He pulled the door open a little further so he could look inside too. Richard sidled up next to the blonde vampire,
straining to see what had them all so transfixed already.
Asher released a low whistle of appreciation through his teeth.
The stage, a raised catwalk with three evenly spaced poles in the middle, ran down the entire length of the main room,
bisecting the floor into two different sections. It looked more like a runway for fashion models than a stage, but allowed
more of the club's patrons a front row seat depending on where the women performing were dancing.
Bathed in a bright, white spotlight, the naked woman presently on the catwalk wrapped her lithe, but shapely figure around
one of the three poles and shimmied her hips down the length of it. Her blatantly sexual movements were mesmerizing the men
watching her and the look in her eyes was smoldering and seductive. She clearly was enjoying herself, shamelessly teasing
the men closest to her, hypnotizing them into nothing more than slack-jawed automatons. Obviously, she was very good at what
"So what do you think?" Jason suddenly shouted from behind the group of men huddled at the half-open door, startling them.
"Didn't I tell you this place was hot?"
They all jumped back guiltily, and let the door thud close again, turning to face the young werewolf, but then seemed to
look past him. Jason quickly turned around.
A scantily clad "goddess" stood before them, tall and dazzlingly beautiful with long blonde hair, big, hazel-colored eyes,
and full, bright red lips. She flashed a disarming smile and folded her arms across her amply endowed chest.
"Welcome to Diego's," she purred with a breathy, southern drawl. "My name is Ginny and I'm your hostess this evening."
Her eyes drifted slowly over each of the men huddled before her and she grinned smugly. "Lucky me." She licked her lips and
raised her brow. "Is there anywhere in particular you gentlemen would like to be seated?"
For a moment, no one moved or said anything, then unexpectedly, Asher stepped forward and held out a hundred dollar bill
"Perhaps, you have a table in a nice dark and discreet little corner," the vampire suggested. "Not too far from the stage?"
Ginny's eyes locked on Asher's as she reached for the money in his hand. She nodded slightly, her lips parting in surprise
at the tip he was offering her.
"Yes," she whispered. "Anything you wish."
Asher held her gaze and purposefully brushed his fingertips over her hand as she took the money from him. The hostess'
eyes fluttered and closed. Her body trembled delicately and she tilted her head back, emitting a low, drawn-out moan. Asher
smiled and reached out to run his fingers down her throat.
Jean-Claude sighed. "Release her, mon ami," he said firmly. "We are trying to be inconspicuous tonight, remember?"
Asher frowned at him. "Just having a little fun, Jean-Claude. I seldom get the chance to touch women with my powers anymore.
I will behave myself from now on, if you absolutely insist."
"I do," the other vampire said sharply. "I do not want any of these women following us home, Asher. You know as well as
I do the effect your powers have on mortals."
Asher sighed. "Oh, do lighten up," he replied. "Nothing will become of this. I merely touched her." He freed the bespelled
hostess and stepped away from her.
Ginny blinked up at Asher, her hand still outstretched, tightly grasping the hundred dollar bill. She smiled broadly and
took a deep breath.
"My apologies," Asher said, inclining his head towards the hostess in a slight bow. "I meant you no harm. I simply could
not resist one so charming and attractive as yourself." He took her hand, opened it and pressed another bill into it.
Ginny's eyes widened. "No need to apologize, darlin," she whispered. "That was a lot sweeter than a pinch on the ass."
She looked up at him. "I almost feel guilty taking your money for it. Almost," she added with a sly wink. She stepped forward
and motioned the men to follow her. "Right this way, gentlemen."
Jason nearly tripped over Micah trying to get the door for her. He pulled it open and held it, grinning ear to ear.
Ginny laughed, patted him indulgently on the cheek, and led the men into the main room to a table two rows from the stage
in the far corner. The woman performing now had apparently just come on. She was still fully dressed for the time being, but
dancing rather provocatively around one of the poles. The men stood staring at her for a few moments before gathering around
the table to claim chairs.
"Ah, perfect, Mademoiselle," Asher told her, surveying the choice spot.
"You are more than welcome," she replied, placing her hand over her heart and smiling at him adoringly. "Now, if there's
anything I can do for you, why, you just let me know."
Jean-Claude went to her and gave her another tip. "Thank you," he murmured. "And again, our sincerest apologies for my
friend's little indiscretion earlier."
Accepting the money, Ginny laughed lightly and looked Jean-Claude over with an appraising gaze. "My, my, but you are all
so handsome." She patted her chest a few times as if the men assembled before her were making her heart flutter. "Remember,
if there's anything else you need, please don't hesitate to ask me. Lori will be your waitress tonight. She'll be here shortly
to get your drinks." She paused and smiled at Asher again. "If y'all drink, that is." With that, she turned and left.
Taking a seat at the far side of the table, Richard crossed his arms in front of him and leaned towards Asher, who seated
himself across from him.
"Great," Richard muttered. "Now she thinks we're all vampires." He nodded, indicating the retreating hostess. "What did
you do to her?"
Asher glanced apologetically at Jean-Claude who sat down beside him. Jean-Claude smiled reassuringly at him, then turned
"He touched her. Asher is right. That kind of power has no lingering effects. It is nothing to be concerned about. I should
not have been so abrupt with him."
"Who said I was concerned?" Richard replied, glancing up at the now nude woman on-stage. "I was just curious."
Jason, who was sitting next to Richard on the other side of Jean-Claude, grinned and leaned forward.
"Yeah, but how, and more importantly, where, did you touch her?" the young werewolf asked. "Women don't normally react
that way when someone touches their hand."
Asher shook his head and smiled. "Wouldn't you like to know, little wolf."
"I didn't realize you could do that," Micah commented, seated on Asher's left side next to Richard. "But, I've heard things
Jean-Claude laughed. "It would seem your reputation is making itself known once more, my lovely Asher. Soon, you'll be
having to fend them off with a stick."
Watching the stripper on-stage for a few moments, Asher leaned back in his chair. "Right. That will be the day. My reputation
was never that impressive," he murmured, somewhat preoccupied.
He ran his hand through his long hair, habitually pushing it over the right side of his face. It did not escape Jean-Claude's
attention that he had also chosen the darkest side of the table to sit at. Asher was getting more confident every day, but
century-old habits had a tendency to die hard.
"Not impressive?" Jason piped up. "Hell, that's not what I heard."
All eyes turned on him now.
"Oh, and just who have you been talking to?" Asher asked, dubiously.
The werewolf grinned. "Anita. Who else? She said you're incredible in bed."
Asher blinked back at him in astonishment. "Incredible? She said that?"
Jean-Claude reached up and stroked Asher's hair. "He could have spoken to me as well. I too, know first hand, just how
incredible in bed you are."
Micah and Jason exchanged amused glances. Richard shook his head and looked away from them, focusing his attention on the
stage as another stripper replaced the one who had just left.
Asher wasn't paying any attention to the shapeshifters or stripper however. He turned to face Jean-Claude, leaning towards
him, his adoring gaze all but devouring him.
"You are so very good for my ego, mon ami," he cooed and dropped a quick kiss on Jean-Claude's lips.
Richard cleared his throat tactfully and looked up with an exaggerated movement. Their waitress had appeared, and was looking
at the men around the table expectantly.
She was young, in her early twenties, tall and somewhat lanky, but extremely--almost suspiciously--well-endowed. She had
long dark hair and pale blue eyes that seemed to twinkle even in the dim light.
"Hi. My name is Maureen. And I'll be your waitress tonight!" she said rather enthusiastically.
Richard and Micah exchanged glances.
"We were told our waitress was Lori," Micah told her.
Maureen flashed a quick smile, bending low over the table, allowing a clear unobstructed view of her ample cleavage as
she placed cocktail napkins in front of each of the men.
"Lori loss the toss," Maureen explained. "What'll you gentlemen have?" She straightened and withdrew a small pad from the
pocket on her left hip and pulled a pencil out from behind her ear.
"What do you mean 'loss the toss'?" Richard asked.
Maureen bit her full lower lip, scraping off a layer of bright pink lipstick in the process. "Well, we all got a good look
when you guys came in and Lori's already got three tables. All us girls were fighting over who'd get to serve you, so Ginny
suggested we toss a coin for you and call it." She paused and smiled again. "I won!"
"Well, congratulations, Maureen," Jason said with a sly smile. "You just made my night telling me women were fighting over
who gets to serve me. What do you have on tap, sweetheart?"
Maureen dutifully listed the choices.
"Michelob," Jason told her.
"Heineken," Richard said.
"Guinness," Micah ordered.
Maureen looked at Asher, but the vampire was already shaking his head.
"Nothing for me, thank you."
Maureen looked sympathetic suddenly. "Are you the designated driver? I can get you a coke or something non-alcoholic if
Asher grinned. "No, but thank you." He turned his gaze on Jason and raised his brow. The young wolf frowned and shook his
head, clearing his throat to get Maureen's attention.
"All right, scratch the Michelob," Jason told the waitress. "I'm the 'designated driver' so you better bring me a club
Maureen nodded, and made the necessary changes on her pad, then looked at Jean-Claude. Her mouth fell open when she did,
and she lowered the pad, clutching it tightly to her breast. Jean-Claude spoke to her, and politely declined any drinks as
well, but her slightly awestruck expression betrayed the fact she didn't really hear a word he was saying. She seemed entranced.
Startled, Jean-Claude reached over and tapped her arm. "Mademoiselle? Did you hear me?"
"I'll say," Maureen sighed. "You have a really, really nice voice." She paused and summoned a rather coy smile. "I love
your accent. I take it you're not from here originally." She laughed lightly. "Of course you're not! God, how stupid of me!"
She blushed prettily. "Are you just visiting our fair city, or are you here on business?"
Jean-Claude raised his brow. He opened his mouth to speak, reconsidered what he was going to say and simply offered the
girl a disarming smile.
"Just visiting," he lied.
"Oh, that's too bad," Maureen announced with a heavy sigh. "Did you say you didn't want anything either? Oh, wait, you're
the Michelob, right? Okay. I'll be back though. With your drink." She started off, pulling her gaze off the vampire as she
did. She turned sharply and gestured at Jason. "What did you have again? I've got three things down for you."
Jason frowned. "The club soda." He jerked his thumb at Micah. "Guinness for him." He pointed at Richard. "Heineken."
Maureen nodded. "Oh right. Got it." She giggled girlishly and scurried off, glancing over her shoulder at Jean-Claude as
she did and nearly ran into one of the adjacent tables.
Micah, Asher, and Jean-Claude started laughing hysterically once she had gone. Jason shook his head and Richard rolled
"Oh yeah, real classy joint," Richard commented to Jason. "The service is bar none I see."
"In this case, bar none meaning there is no bar service," Micah joked.
Jean-Claude sat back in his chair. "Take pity on the poor girl," he said, glancing up at the woman on the catwalk directly
in front of him. "The five of us together probably overwhelmed her. I think the rising estrogen levels in her body contributed
to her rather impaired professional skills."
Watching the stripper as well, Richard shook his head. "No. She only had eyes for you, Jean-Claude. She could have cared
less about the rest of us."
Asher glanced over at the vampire beside him. "She was fine until she looked at you," he said, raising his brow. "Did you
do something to her?"
Jason crossed his arms over his chest pretending to pout and faced Richard. "Shit. Why can't we mesmerize women like they
can?" He made a sharp gesture at Asher and Jean-Claude. "It's not fair."
"Because we're not vampires," Richard said in a low voice.
Micah dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. "Any man can intrigue a woman with a little experience and a lot of
"For your information," Jean-Claude protested, "I was not using my powers on her."
"Oh right!" Jason exclaimed sarcastically, his eyes following the present stripper down the catwalk.
"Yeah, strange women just bask in the afterglow of your presence, don't they, Jean-Claude?" Richard added.
Jean-Claude grinned. "I do not like to brag...but it is true."
"You're so fucking full of it," Asher teased him.
Micah laughed. "No supernatural powers?" he asked. "Just natural sex appeal, huh?"
Jean-Claude nodded. "I swear, I did not bespell her."
"It's like slipping them a micky," Richard went on, ignoring the vampire's protests of innocence. "They can't attract women
to them without 'drugging' them first."
Asher leaned across the table. "You sound a little jealous, mon ami."
The werewolf king sneered back at him indignantly. "Hardly."
Turning away from the stage, Jason grinned. "Ah, I smell a bet in the making."
Folding his hands in front of him on the table, Asher smiled. "I will tell you what. I will buy all the drinks tonight,
if you can get the next stripper to come over to our table and kiss you...sans supernatural powers."
"No problem," Richard said and grinned. "You're on, fang-face."
Raising his hand, Micah cleared his throat. "Wait. What does Asher get if he wins?"
The blonde vampire huffed and angled his chair to better face the stage. "Oh please," he stated. "The mere satisfaction
of seeing our presumptuous Ulfric put back in his proper place will be compensation enough for me."
Jason laughed. "Oh, this I've got to see." He gestured at the spotlighted stage. "Get ready, guys, 'cause here she comes."
The song, Madonna's "Like A Prayer", began softly over the sound system and a woman dressed as a nun in a habit stepped
out onto the catwalk.
Micah chuckled and nudged Jean-Claude. "Watch out. If she flashes a rosary, you guys are toast," he teased.
Jean-Claude leaned towards him. "Somehow, I do not think she is, what one might say, the 'pious type'."
As if to prove the vampire right, the woman suddenly tore off the veil from her head as the music exploded in volume, releasing
a cascade of flaming red hair. As the song's tempo increased, she made an athletic and well-timed leap onto the closest pole.
She spun around it several times: her long black habit swirling out fluidly around her, revealing a waist-high slit in her
skirt, which in turn, revealed the woman's black stockings, leather garters, and three inch stiletto heels.
A collective sigh of appreciation escaped the lips of the five men seated at the table in the third row and they all unconsciously
leaned forward a little in their chairs.
Jason grinned widely. He put his elbow on the table and plopped his head into his hand. "Oh yeah, baby, do it, do it,"
he urged giddily as the stripper pulled open the front of the habit.
She peeled it off and tossed it aside with a practiced flourish, then stood momentarily as the tempo of the music slowed
again, raising her arms and adopting a prayerful pose. The tight leather corset and tiny leather g-string she was left in
seemed to symbolize her fall from grace. Then she smiled lasciviously as the music once more picked up speed and sprung into
a finely choreographed dance. On her studded belt was a set of silver handcuffs and a coiled bullwhip. She snatched up the
whip and cracked it as she danced down the catwalk, making the men in the front rows flinch.
"Sweet fornication," Asher murmured, his eyes following the woman down the length of the stage.
"Sinful," Jean-Claude said and clucked his tongue.
"Look at her," Micah sighed. "Just...like a prayer."
"She's built like a prayer," Jason added. "My prayers anyway."
The stripper stalked back up the stage, turning her attention momentarily to the men on the opposite side of the catwalk,
grinding her hips against one of the poles, giving all the men on the other side a rather provocative view of her well-toned
Micah turned to nudge Richard's arm but out of the corner of his eye noticed he was writing something on one of the cocktail
napkins. He wasn't even watching the stripper. Then Richard leaned forward and tapped Asher on the shoulder.
Asher turned around.
"I've got this one in the bag," he told the vampire. "I want to see some money on the table though before I make my move."
Asher laughed and shook his head, but fished out several bills and tossed them at Richard.
The Ulfric waited until Asher turned away again, then snatched the money off the table with a quick: "Thank you!"
Micah watched as Richard carefully folded the money into the napkin he'd written on.
"What are you doing?" the wereleopard asked, turning his head to yell into Richard's ear.
Richard held his finger up to his lips and smiled deviously.
The noise in the club was deafening now as the stripper slowly unlaced and peeled off her corset. The cheers and whistles
filling the air nearly drowned out the booming music. The stripper danced her way back up the catwalk, gyrating and spinning
around each of the poles in a wanton display.
Richard suddenly rose from his chair and edged his way towards the stage as the stripper drew nearer. She noticed him and
readily approached him, keeping her stride in perfect time to the music. Richard stopped in front of her and raised his hand,
showing her the money. She shimmied down until her hips were level with his outstretched hand, and slowed her movements accommodatingly.
The werewolf could hear the encouraging calls of his companions back at the table. Determinedly, he stuffed the note and
the money down the front of the stripper's g-string and hastily retreated from the stage.
The song wound down and the stripper executed a quick curtsey, then bounded energetically from the stage to enthusiastic
applause as another dancer took her place.
Richard returned to the table to his own applause and several congratulatory thumps on the back for his daring deed. The
drinks had arrived in his absence and he dropped into his seat and picked up his glass.
"Drink up, gentlemen!" he announced and saluted the blonde vampire. "Asher's picking up the tab!"
Jason and Micah saluted Asher as well, cheering him raucously. "Here! Here!"
Asher turned and faced Richard with a smug smile. "The deal was for you to bring her here, mon ami, not for you to go up
Jean-Claude folded his arms in front of him and bent forward.
"What have you got up your sleeve, Richard?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow at him warily.
"You'll see," the werewolf told him and smiled.
"Head's up, Asher," Jason said suddenly and grinned wickedly. "Looks like we have a visitor."
Asher slowly turned around in his chair and found himself suddenly eye level with the milky white cleavage of the nun/dominatrix
who had just performed on-stage. She stood before him in a short black satin robe, her long red hair flowing over her shoulders
like a river of lava on a volcano.
She was still breathing deeply from her exertions on the stage and a little film of perspiration dampened her bangs, but
she smiled widely and laughed lightly at the vampire's somewhat startled expression.
"Which one of you gentlemen is Asher?" she asked breathlessly.
Richard, Jean-Claude, Jason, and Micah all pointed simultaneously at the blonde vampire.
"Oh good," she grinned and leaned down. "I have a message for you, blondie." She seized Asher's head in her hands and quickly
covered his mouth in a devouring kiss.
Asher had to grasp her arms to keep her from bending him back over the table. She drew back finally, licking her lips with
a slow savor and taking several deep breaths.
"That was your consolation prize. I was told to tell you, you lost. I'm assuming you know what it was. I don't."
Asher nodded, still somewhat stunned. "Yes, yes, I do," he told her and shot Richard a scathing look.
Jean-Claude laughed in delight and applauded Richard's victory. Micah and Jason readily joined in. The wolf king rose to
his feet and bowed graciously.
The woman shrugged, smiled at Asher sympathetically, then turned to leave.
"Wait!" Asher stopped her. "I must know. How did he get you to come over here?"
The stripper reached inside her robe pocket and pulled out the note and the money Richard had given her. She held it up
for Asher's inspection.
"Money makes the world go around, blondie," she said with a sly grin and stalked off.
Asher faced Richard. "That was my money, wasn't it?"
Richard laughed. "That's why I thought it only fair you should be the one to get the kiss. You said all I had to do was
get her over here, you didn't specify how."
Trying to look angry, but failing miserably, Asher finally gave up and smiled. "You realize, mon ami, that only proves
you are no better than we are. Only instead of 'drugging' your women, you have to 'bribe' them."
"Ah, touché!" Jean-Claude commended Asher, gazing at him with undisclosed affection before turning to face the stage.
Another song started and a different woman strutted out onto the catwalk. She was Latino with waist-length black hair,
honey-colored skin, and large dark eyes. She danced energetically to Joan Jett's version of "Touch" and stripped down to her
red stockings. By the time she had finished her routine, men throughout the room were shifting uncomfortably in their seats,
loosening ties, and chugging their beers.
Her sex appeal wasn't lost on the three lycanthropes and two vampires either. After she had gone, they huddled around the
table and simply stared at the graining of the wood for awhile as if seeking a momentary reprieve from the relentless assault
on their hormones.
Finally, Jason swigged down the last of his club soda and wiped his mouth with his hand.
"I feel faint," he mumbled. "I think I need another drink."
"I think you need to go easy on that hard liquor there, son," Richard teased and took a long savoring drink of beer. "By
god, there's nothing like an ice cold beer on a hot summer night."
Asher tossed another fifty dollars onto the table. "There. What the hell? Buy yourselves another round," he grumbled.
Micah smiled and grabbed one of the bills and waved it through the air to get their waitress' attention. "Why, Asher, how
very generous of you."
Maureen was before them in the blink of an eye, beaming at the men amiably before fixing her gaze on Jean-Claude.
"Did you need another Michelob, Hon?"
Everyone started snickering, and Jean-Claude suddenly realized she was speaking to him. He looked up at her and smiled.
"Ah, no, Mademoiselle. Not for me, my friends," he said and gestured around the table.
"You sure?" Maureen asked, her smile wilting slightly.
Jean-Claude sighed. "Oh...very well. Bring me a Michelob."
Maureen's expression brightened considerably and she dutifully wrote the vampire's order in her pad.
"And another round for the rest of us," Richard put in quickly before she skipped off again.
Asher started to laugh. "I did not know you had developed a taste for brewed lager, mon ami," he addressed Jean-Claude.
"I have no intention of drinking it," the master vampire replied needlessly, leaning back in his chair. "If she doesn't
show up with anyone else's drinks, you three can share mine."
Jason slapped his empty glass down on the table in frustration. "Goddamn, what I wouldn't give to have that kind of effect
on women," he lamented.
"Let's not start that again," Richard warned, shaking his finger at him.
Asher reached over and tugged playfully at Jean-Claude's braid. "It was always like this whenever we would go out somewhere
together," he told the others. "All the maids and serving wenches would take one look at him and fall instantly in love. I
see nothing's changed."
Jean-Claude peered over at him. "Don't make it sound as though they paid no attention to you, Asher. I seem to recall a
fair share of 'wenches' succumbing to your charms."
Smiling slyly, Asher shrugged. "Only because they knew I paid well for their services."
"I noticed you're a rather generous tipper," Micah commented.
"The gratuity he gave them, however, was not always monetary," Jean-Claude insinuated, nudging Asher in the ribs.
Asher raised his chin and looked arrogantly down his nose at the other vampire. "The pot calling the kettle black."
Shaking his head, Jason laughed, and leaned forward, wrapping his hands around his empty glass.
"Sheesh, the stories you two could tell," he said somewhat wistfully.
"Do either of you have any inkling as to how many lovers you've had over the centuries?" Richard asked.
Jean-Claude and Asher looked at each other blankly. Then Asher faced Richard and shrugged.
"I stopped counting a very long time ago," he admitted.
"I never bothered to count them at all," Jean-Claude added. "What would be the purpose of such tallying? Whatever the total,
it hardly seems a fitting way to measure a man's virility."
Micah grinned. "Spoken like a true gentleman." He raised his glass to the vampire and finished off the last of his beer,
then looked towards the stage. He nudged Richard beside him. "Hey, take a look at her."
All eyes focused on the stage now as another woman walked on. She took her place, leaning back against the pole nearest
them. She was wearing a long trench coat, hat, gloves, and dark glasses. All that was visible of her face was the pale skin
of her angular chin and her full, glossy red lips. Even dressed as she was, there was something riveting about her which seemed
to hold every man in the room unnaturally spellbound. She started moving as her song began, peeling off the gloves and then
tossing them aside. She slithered around the pole with an inhuman grace and fluidity, further transfixing every man watching
Jean-Claude and Asher exchanged glances before turning their eyes back on the stripper. The power emanating from her was
"She's a vampire," Asher stated to no one in particular.
Jason sat forward in his chair and rubbed his hands together. "Oh, this ought to be good."
Micah gestured towards her. "That explains this odd feeling. She's using her powers on the audience."
"Who is she? Do you two know her?" Jason asked the vampires.
Asher shook his head. "Non. She is young, however. Under six months, I would say."
The stripper unbelted her coat and slid out of it, revealing the very short skirt and suit jacket underneath. She grabbed
a pole and sailed effortlessly around it.
"Is she one of yours?" Micah asked Jean-Claude.
The master vampire nodded. "Apparently. One of my people made her. Her power feels familiar to me when I touch her mind."
Intrigued, Jean-Claude sat forward slightly and called to her. His summon seemed to immediately catch the woman's attention.
She turned abruptly and looked directly at him, dancing her way back towards him up the catwalk, shimmying out of her suit
jacket as she did. Then she reached around behind her and unzipped her skirt. Sliding it slowly down her hips, she bent over
and wiggled her rearend to the men on the opposite side of the catwalk.
"I thought the marquee said LIVE, nude girls," Richard put in. "If they've got a vampire on the payroll, that's false advertising."
He grinned as Asher turned and made a face at him.
The stripper was down to her lingerie now. The white spotlight accentuated the paleness of her skin making it fairly glow.
She tipped her hat off, rolling it expertly down her arm and catching it in her hand. Her hair was a shimmery, coppery brown,
straight--but teased wildly around her face. She smiled slowly, displaying her fangs provocatively, which made the men in
the audience whoop and holler enthusiastically.
"Bunch of necrophiles," Richard muttered.
Asher looked at Jean-Claude.
"Tourists," they said together and started to laugh.
The stripper focused her attention back on Jean-Claude. She curtseyed gracefully before him, using her hat with an exaggerated
flourish, before tossing it to him. When he caught it, she smiled and blew him a kiss, then turned around and leaned over,
giving him a choice view of her shapely buttocks and long fish-net clad legs.
"You sure you don't know her?" Jason asked Jean-Claude. "She sure acts like she knows you."
"She's just doing her job," Richard replied, folding his arms across his chest.
Jean-Claude turned and placed the stripper's hat in the middle of the table. "She knows who I am."
"She's ambitious then," Micah guessed. "Maybe she thinks if she plays up to you, it will curry your favor. Being young,
she probably wants power. It's a power play on her part."
"Yeah, if it isn't money, it's power," Richard grumbled and finished off his drink.
"More than likely she just wants to get into his pants," Asher muttered and ducked to avoid the next article of clothing
the stripper had tossed to Jean-Claude.
Jason looked up just in time to get hit in the face with the stripper's brazier. He lifted it up and placed it reverently
beside her hat. "I think I agree with Asher. She wants you."
Jean-Claude laughed and shook his head. "Yes. Well. I'm taken."
"Maybe she doesn't realize you already have a girlfriend," Micah said, catching the panties the stripper tossed towards
them. He added that garment to the increasing pile in the middle of the table.
Jason reached over and lifted the panties from their cache and ran his fingers over the silky material lovingly. He grinned
and looked up, then dropped the panties as if the lace had burned his fingers.
"Holy shit!" the werewolf suddenly exclaimed, his eyes widening in shock and horror. "Speaking of girlfriends...."
Everyone's head snapped around in the direction Jason was indicating.
"Oh fuck," Asher said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Richard nearly spat out the beer he had been drinking.
Too stricken to speak, Jean-Claude and Micah simply stared into the darkness with their mouths hanging open.
At the far end of the room, standing just inside the double doors, Anita and Sergeant Zerbrowski were talking to the hostess,
Ginny. Anita's eyes were locked on the now totally nude woman on the stage.
"I thought you said she was working tonight!" Jason sputtered, turning on Micah.
The Nimir-Raj licked his lips nervously. "She is working!" he shot back. "She's with that detective! You don't think she'd
come here by choice, do you?"
"They must be investigating something here," Asher guessed, passing his hand over his face in exasperation.
Richard suddenly laughed. "'Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to walk into mine'," he quoted, doing a bad
Humphrey Bogart imitation. "Oh, this is priceless! Here's all of Anita's little boys, caught with their hands in the proverbial
cookie jar." He laughed harder and reached over to nudge Jean-Claude. "Better get used to that doghouse you're in, lover,
'cause it's gonna be home for a really long time now."
"Don't panic," Asher coolly advised, shooting Richard an admonishing look. "No one has been caught yet. I do not believe
she knows we are here. We may still be able to sneak out before she does."
Jean-Claude swallowed down the lump building in his throat. He suddenly gestured at the lingerie on the table and practically
snarled at Jason. "Do something with those!"
Jason snatched up the stripper's discarded wares and stuffed them into the hat and threw them under the table.
"I wonder if there's a back door to this place," he whispered loudly, dragging his hand through his short hair, making
it stand on end.
"If we move now, we'll surely draw her attention," Micah informed. "Just act casual, watch the girl, and when the time
comes, we'll high tail it out of here."
Jean-Claude took a deep steadying breath and looked over at Anita. His heart was pounding in his chest, but he could not
attribute it entirely to his fear of being caught here by her. The sight of her standing across the room was also stirring
his blood. His eyes drifted over her longingly, noting the way her long, dark hair fell in soft waves over her shoulders,
the elegant bend of her arm, the fullness of her hips, and the sloping curve of her breasts beneath her blouse. He wanted
to go to her and take her in his arms and kiss her deeply--throw himself at her feet and beg her forgiveness for the insensitivity
he had shown which had caused the initial rift between them. Had he been in any other place, he would have. But now, the only
hope he had of ever being forgiven for that transgression was to flee from her before she discovered this transgression.
Having finished her performance, the vampire stripper on-stage bowed to her appreciative audience and ducked between the
backstage curtains as another stripper took her place on the catwalk.
Zerbrowski and Anita abruptly headed after her, racing up the steps leading on-stage and disappeared through the curtains.
"Look! They are going after her," Asher stated, pulling Jean-Claude up with him as he stood.
"Now's our chance!" Jason shouted, jumping to his feet.
"Go!" Richard said, pushing Micah. "Head out!"
"Just walk," Jean-Claude ordered. "Do not draw anyone's attention." He waved his companions ahead of him, and turned to
look in the direction Anita had gone. He hesitated momentarily, then felt Asher's hand on his shoulder.
"Come, mon ami," he said quietly. "We need to go now."
Jean-Claude nodded, and reluctantly started forward.
Ginny, the hostess suddenly appeared before them, blocking their way.
"Leaving so soon?" she asked. "Is everything all right?"
"Everything is fine, cherie," Asher whispered. "It is simply time for us to go." He put his hands on her arms and bodily
moved her out of his way.
Richard, Micah, and Jason had reached the double doors and were looking back at them anxiously, waving them on.
Ginny stepped aside, but followed Asher closely. "Well, that's too bad. Hate to see you boys go. If you wait here, I'll
have Maureen bring up your tab."
Jean-Claude rolled his eyes. "Please don't summon her," he begged, knowing the waitress would detain them even longer.
Asher gestured back at the table. "That won't be necessary," he told her. "There is fifty-six dollars on the table. Tell
her to keep the change."
Ginny smiled brightly. "That's very generous of you. Now you gentlemen be sure to visit us again real soon."
"Yes, we promise," Asher said, nodding. "Bonsoir, Mademoiselle." He leaned over and planted a quick kiss on her cheek,
then smiled at her. "My apologies. I could not resist."
Ginny laughed, then turned sharply towards the stage as the sound of a woman's scream suddenly drowned out the raucous
"What in blazes?" she muttered and started forward.
The current stripper on-stage stopped what she was doing and stood at the end of the catwalk dumbfounded. Another scream
and several loud crashes filled the air and prompted the woman to make a hasty retreat into the crowd.
Asher and Jean-Claude exchanged wary glances and quickly headed for the exit.
"Stop or I'll shoot!" Anita's voice rang out, cutting through the stunned silence that had gripped the night club patrons.
Asher and Jean-Claude halted where they were, then slowly turned around.
Anita hadn't been addressing them however. Anita was still no where to be seen. All of a sudden, the still-naked vampire
stripper came tearing through the stage curtains, her eyes wide with fear. She made an inhuman leap from the catwalk onto
the floor without slowing down or even breaking stride.
A few moments later, Anita and Zerbrowski appeared through the backstage curtains and darted after her in hot pursuit.
Anita also leapt from the stage with an uncanny agility one would not normally attribute to a mere human. As if to prove this,
Zerbrowski jumped too, but crash landed on one of the front row tables, scattering glasses and patrons alike across the floor.
Much to the vampires' dismay, the fleeing stripper headed directly towards them, and with histrionic melodrama, she threw
herself at Jean-Claude's feet and wrapped her arms tightly around his legs.
"Master, save me!" she sobbed. "Have mercy on me, please! Have mercy!"
Jean-Claude's heart sunk. He heard Anita's approaching footsteps and knew avoiding her was no longer a viable option. Resigned,
he slowly raised his eyes to face her.
At the sight of him, Anita froze, and for the briefest moment, seemed too stunned to move. She blinked at Jean-Claude as
though not truly trusting what her eyes were showing her. She quickly shook it off however, and walked steadily up to him,
keeping her gun trained on the vampire crying at his feet.
"Brie Michaels, you're under arrest!" Anita hissed, her eyes narrowing in anger. "How about a little help here, Jean-Claude?"
She looked down at the woman clinging to him, then glared up at him furiously. "Has it even occurred to you to make an attempt
to peel her off, look a little chagrined at least, or a teeny bit uncomfortable somehow, considering the fact there's a naked
woman plastered to your body, and your girlfriend is standing not two feet in front of you?" Anita stared at him awhile longer,
then turned her attention back on the sobbing stripper. "Get the fuck off of him!"
Jean-Claude felt the woman's arms tighten around him and he sighed heavily. "May I inquire as to what she is being charged
with?" he asked quietly.
Anita's eyes shot up to his. As she did, she caught sight of the men coming to stand beside him. Her jaw fell open and
her face blanched in disbelief. Slowly she looked from Asher, to Micah, to Richard, and then to Jason, before refocusing her
gaze back on Jean-Claude, shaking her head.
"She...she's being charged with illegal mind control," Anita stammered, still somewhat taken aback.
Ginny came forward and looked anxiously at Anita.
"What's this all about? You said you just wanted to talk to her." Before Anita could reply, Ginny faced Jean-Claude. "Why
did she call you 'master'? Who are you?"
Jean-Claude glanced over at the hostess. "I am her master."
"He's the Master Vampire of St. Louis," Jason added. "He's Jean-Claude."
Ginny's eyes grew wide and she looked the master vampire over slowly. "Omigod, it is you!" she exclaimed. "I knew you were
a vampire, but I just didn't put two and two together. Now that I know who you are, it's as plain as day. I've always wanted
to meet you! I never imagined I actually would. Oh, wait 'til I tell the girls back home you came to my club."
Jean-Claude smiled thinly, looking anything but pleased.
"He didn't want to be recognized," Richard offered. "That was the idea."
Anita cleared her throat. "Naturally. Can't have anyone thinking the oh-so-cultured Master of the City frequents sleazy
strip joints, now can we?" She took a step forward, keeping her eyes on Jean-Claude's.
Ginny frowned and edged away from Anita. "I'll just go fetch Brie a robe," she offered and hurried away.
"Good idea," Anita called after her.
Jean-Claude opened his mouth to speak, but Zerbrowski suddenly appeared beside Anita, wiping his hands on a napkin. He
burst out laughing upon seeing the unexpected and unlikely assembly standing in front of him.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he said and grinned widely. "What have we here? Boys' night out?"
Jason stepped forward. "Yeah. Boys' night out." He faced Anita. "That's all it is."
Anita glared at him briefly before fixing her gaze back on Jean-Claude.
"Kindly step away from the suspect, Jean-Claude," she rumbled. "Don't make me arrest you too, for obstructing justice.
I'll do it. I swear I will."
A stunned silence fell over the men. They looked at each other knowingly. If Anita was threatening to arrest Jean-Claude,
she was obviously angrier with him than she was letting on.
Jean-Claude mere stared back at her and then raised his chin defiantly.
"This is one of my vampires. My people. I have the right to know what it is she is being accused of."
Anita took a deep, measured breath. "I know it's probably hard for you to concentrate right now since all the blood in
your brain has obviously migrated south, but try to pay attention this time. She is accused of illegally using mind control."
"You're not referring to the powers she uses on-stage, are you?" Asher spoke up. "I would hardly think such a thing constitutes
Anita slowly turned to look at the blonde vampire. "Caught her act, did you? And she uses mind control on-stage too?" She
paused and smiled humorlessly. "You're not helping anybody, Asher, so back off, okay?"
Zerbrowski cleared his throat tactfully, and stepped forward. "We received a number of complaints about Miss Michaels here.
Seems she's gotten in the habit of luring men backstage after her show with a proposition of getting laid, and then she zaps
'em, and has supper with them instead."
"It's non-consentual, and against the law," Anita stressed.
Taking a deep breath, Jean-Claude peered down at the vampire clinging to him. "Is this true?" he questioned her.
Brie Michaels looked up at him, and nodded hesitantly.
"But I didn't know I was doing anything wrong," she said and sniffed, tears streaming down her face, leaving black trails
of mascara on her cheeks.
Jean-Claude reached down and pulled her to her feet. He shook his head admonishingly at her, but tenderly wiped the tears
from her face with his thumb.
"It is wrong," he told her. "It is against the law, and I forbid it as well. Whomever turned you, should have warned you
against such things. I will not hold you accountable, but your maker will be punished. For now, you must go with the police,
but upon your release, I want you to report to me. Then you and I shall have a long talk."
"Here, Brie, sweetheart," Ginny said, drawing up beside the girl, holding up a robe. She helped her into it. "Don't you
worry. Everything will be all right."
Brie Michaels looked towards Anita warily. "I'm not going to be executed?"
Anita's expression softened somewhat. "No," she assured the vampire. "But you will probably have to spend a little time
in jail and appear before a judge. It all depends."
Zerbrowski placed handcuffs around Brie Michaels' wrists and pulled her away from Ginny.
"Come with me now, Miss Michaels," he began. "I think Marshal Blake wants to talk to these gentlemen for a bit. Let's go
sit in the car and you can tell me your side of the story."
"No," Anita said, reholstering her gun. "I've nothing to say to any of them. Let's just go."
"Anita," Richard said, moving towards her and grabbing her arm. "Don't be such a hard-ass."
Jerking her arm free of Richard's grasp, Anita jabbed him sharply in the middle of the chest with her index finger.
"Try stopping me again, Richard and you'll see what a real hard-ass I can be!" she snarled at him. With that, she spun
around on her heel and strode off after Zerbrowski.
"Anita! Wait!" Micah called after her and stepped forward. "I know you're upset, but there's really no reason to be. We
didn't do anything wrong. You're acting like we all deceived you, or betrayed you somehow. Nothing could be further from the
"Really?" Anita said, feigning surprise. "God, that makes me feel so much better." She turned away from him and continued
towards the exit. "Go to hell," she added and slammed into the double doors, banging them against the walls as she passed
through, then all but disappeared into the dark foyer.
Jason walked slowly over to Micah and threw his arm around his shoulder. "Ah, welcome to the doghouse, my friend."
"Dog HOTEL would be more like it," Richard said and sighed. "And we've all got reservations. She's not going to speak to
any of us for long time."
Jean-Claude put his hands on his hips, staring blankly at the double doors, debating. Finally, he took a deep breath and
looked over at Asher.
The blonde vampire smiled knowingly, and nodded encouragingly.
"Go. We will wait here for you. If anyone can save our collective asses at this point, you can, mon ami."
"Go?" Jason asked, coming up beside him. "Go where?"
Jean-Claude inclined his head towards the exit. "I have decided to take your advice, my wolf," he said with a quick smile.
"Wish me luck." He started towards the doors.
"Advice? My advice?" Jason turned and faced Asher with a slightly panicked expression. "What advice? What's he talking
"I believe, he is referring to the advice you offered him regarding Valentina," Asher replied quietly with a dismissive
wave of his hand.
Jason's eyes widened. "Oh my god. He's not gonna...take her over his knee, is he?" The young werewolf shrunk back from
the vampire, looking decidedly ill now.
"It worked rather well in 'The Taming of the Shrew'," Asher stated, and grinned slyly.
Micah and Richard looked from Asher to Jean-Claude in confusion. Jean-Claude reached out and placed his hand on Richard's
"I haven't forgotten what you told me either," he said. "In the unlikely event--"
Richard laughed heartily, cutting him off. "Unlikely, yeah, I did say that, didn't I? Well, whatever you do, good luck
Jean-Claude smiled at him warmly, patted his shoulder, and strode off determinedly after his irate girlfriend.
"Yeah, good luck," Jason called after him, miserably. "It was nice knowing you!"
Zerbrowski was already in the car with Brie Michaels tucked away in the back. Anita was just reaching for the car door
handle when she heard Jean-Claude's voice directly behind her.
"Don't leave like this," the vampire said softly.
Spinning around, Anita pushed forcibly away from him. "You lay one finger on me, Jean-Claude, and I'll rip it off!" she
Jean-Claude held up his hands to show her he had no intention of touching her. "I only ask that you hear me out."
Anita shook her head. "Fuck off."
Sighing in exasperation, Jean-Claude looked away from Anita momentarily to collect his resolve. He crossed his arms over
his chest and leaned his hips against the car door, barring her access inside.
"Tell me the truth, Anita," he began, his deep melodious voice edged with his own irritation. "Why are you so angry? Is
it jealousy? Moral outrage? Or could it possibly be the shock of discovering your men actually possess an independent bone
in their bodies?"
Anita looked up at the vampire with fiery eyes. "For your information, I could care less how any of you get your jollies
in your spare time."
"Answer my question," Jean-Claude commanded.
His tone seemed to catch Anita off guard. She quickly turned away from him and bowed her head.
"Just...leave me alone, Jean-Claude. Get out of my way and leave me alone."
The master vampire stayed where he was. Anita swore under her breath and stomped around to the other side of the car. She
threw open the driver's side door and gestured sharply at Zerbrowski.
"Move over, I'm driving!"
Jean-Claude was beside her in an instant, wrenching the car door from her grasp and slamming it shut before she could get
in. He hauled her bodily away from the vehicle and turned her around to face him. She took a swing at him, forcing him to
duck her fist to avoid getting smashed in the mouth by it. She missed connecting by mere inches, spinning around from the
weight she had put behind her punch and almost toppled over. Jean-Claude grabbed her and pulled her back up against him, pinning
her arms to her sides.
She kicked him soundly in the shins, struggling fitfully in his arms. He growled in her ear and tightened his grip on her,
dragging her back to the car and pushing her into it.
"That hurt!" he scolded, plastering her over the hood of the car with the weight of his body.
"Good!" Anita shot back, still struggling. "I'm warning you. You bettter let me go, Jean-Claude."
"I don't believe you are in any kind of position right now to pose a threat to me, ma petite," the vampire told her, twisting
her arms behind her and locking her wrists together with his hand. He peered down at her bent over the car so provocatively--her
lovely round butt so temptingly vulnerable. Jean-Claude licked his lips. "But you are in a prime position to feel the weight
of my hand administering a very basic, corporeal discipline upon your sweet derrière if you do not behave."
Anita immediately stopped struggling. "You wouldn't dare," she said, rather breathlessly.
"Oh wouldn't I?" Jean-Claude replied. "My patience has reached its limit. I am at my wit's end with you, and am more than
prepared to do whatever it takes to make you pay attention to me." He paused and took a deep breath. "Now, would you please
calm down so we can discuss this like rational adults? Tell me what is the matter with you."
"The matter with ME?" Anita hissed. "How dare you imply this is all my fault?"
Jean-Claude sighed. "I implied no such thing. It is just that you are blowing this out of proportion and I want to know
"I find you in some smutty X-rated night club and you have the nerve to tell me I'm blowing this out of proportion?!" Anita
yelled. "Well, excuse me! What was I thinking? After all, boys will be boys."
"Am I to be punished then for simply being there?" Jean-Claude questioned. "Tell me what you think I've done that is so
wrong! Set me straight, Anita. How am I to know my boundaries if you will not talk to me?"
"I am not in the mood for this, goddamnit!" Anita rumbled. "Let me go!"
The vampire shook his head. "No. For once I am not letting you have your way. I am not going to slink off into some corner
to await your absolution. For once I am going to make you listen before you pass judgment on me."
"There's nothing, absolutely nothing, you could possibly say that I want to listen to," Anita snapped back angrily, but
turned her face away from the vampire and sniffed softly.
His heart clenching at the unexpected sound of her sadness, Jean-Claude leaned over Anita and tenderly brushed the hair
from her face with his fingers and soothingly stroked her cheek.
"Then I will listen to you," he told her quietly. "Tell me what is wrong, Anita. I believe you are not truly angry, you
are hurt and sad. Why? Talk to me, please."
Anita sniffed again. "No," she whispered.
Sighing, Jean-Claude straightened, pulling Anita up with him. He gathered her into his arms and held her as she slumped
dejectedly against his chest.
"Ma petite, please tell me what is the matter." He nuzzled her hair and passed his hands slowly over her back, bestowing
feather soft kisses on her head.
Anita snuggled closer to Jean-Claude and took a deep breath. Finally, she looked up at him and a single tear spilled from
her eyes and rolled heavily down her face.
Jean-Claude tentatively lowered his head, not certain she'd reached the point where she would allow him to kiss her, but
when she didn't pull away, he pressed his lips lightly against her tear-filled eye and trailed his mouth down the track of
wetness on her skin.
He felt her quiver exquisitely in his arms. Encouraged, he covered her mouth with his in a soft, lingering embrace.
Surrendering herself to his kiss, Anita wrapped her arms around the vampire's waist and leaned into him, emitting a faint
After awhile, Jean-Claude eased slightly away from her mouth. "Why are you crying, ma petite?" he whispered against her
Anita pulled back a little further. "I'm not crying," she told him and sniffed loudly.
"Of course," Jean-Claude agreed. "But you are upset."
"Yeah, I'm upset," she confessed and pulled out of his arms. "I think I have the right to be. Any woman would be upset
finding her boyfriend, excuse me, boyfriends, in a place like that." She turned and made a sharp gesture at the strip club
marquee. "Women tend to think when their husbands or lovers seek out this kind of entertainment, they're doing it because
they're not real thrilled with what's waiting for them at home." Anita paused to look up at Jean-Claude and frowned deeply.
"You know, at one time in our relationship, I wouldn't have batted an eye seeing you at a strip joint. But now, it's different
between us, and I actually thought you were beyond this sort of thing. It hurts because it makes me think I'm not enough for
you anymore. I'm not pretty enough, or sexy enough for you."
"Anita," Jean-Claude said, his incredulous expression conveying the extent of shock upon hearing such a thing from her.
"I have never, never given you reason to doubt what you mean to me. You cannot stand there, and tell me with any kind of conviction
that you do not satisfy me in every way a woman can satisfy a man."
Anita held up her hand to stay his protests. "I can't help it," she told him quietly. "Try to see this from my point of
view. Here I am, moping around at home because of our last fight--feeling sorry for myself, feeling childish and selfish,
and ashamed for treating you the way I did. All the while, you and the rest of the boys are out on the town, partying--salivating
after strange women as if you don't give a damn. As if you don't even care." Anita bowed her head and turned away from the
vampire. "No, it's not that your independence shocks me. Your apathy shocks me."
Jean-Claude moved a little closer to her. "I do care, ma petite. Knowing that you were unhappy with me, I was sulking myself--you
can ask Asher. I missed you so terribly, I've been utterly miserable to be around these past few days. You can ask anybody
that. As it was, Asher took pity on me, and suggested we go out for the night."
Anita raised her brow. "Oh. So Asher was the one who brought you here?"
Jean-Claude winced. "It does not matter whose idea it was to come here. No one forced me through the doors. The point is,
their intent was admirable." He paused and gazed at the night club. "They are my friends, ma petite. They were only trying
to cheer me up. And I was cheered, but more from the camaraderie we shared than anything else."
Anita turned around to look at him. Jean-Claude reached up and cupped her chin in his hand.
"They would have done the same for you, ma petite. They absolutely adore you."
Grasping Jean-Claude's wrist, Anita gazed deeply into his eyes and slid her hand up his bare arm. She smiled, somewhat
reluctantly, and eased up against him.
"I know," she admitted. "You're right. They would have." She started to laugh lightly, clearly imaging what that sort of
soiree would entail.
Anita's eyes began to rove the black A-shirt Jean-Claude was wearing and her smile broadened. She reached up and touched
his braided hair, bringing it over his shoulder and draping it on his chest.
"I've never seen you look like this," she told him in a quiet voice. "Even I barely recognized you at first glance."
Jean-Claude smiled. "Do you like it?"
Anita thought for a moment, then nodded.
"Yeah, I do. It's sexy."
Jean-Claude raised his brow. "Sexy?"
Anita nodded, then shrugged. "Don't sound so surprised. You know as well as I do you could make a burlap sack look sexy."
She stretched up on her toes to kiss him then, wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing her body tightly to him.
The vampire readily obliged her, bending towards her and folding his arms around her back. He turned his head, sinking
his lips into hers and opening his mouth to take her warm tongue inside him. He would have given anything to be somewhere
more private with her right now. Whenever she kissed him like this, it normally meant she was willing to take their intimacy
one step further.
As it was, Jean-Claude was more than aware of Zerbrowski and Brie Michaels watching them through the car window, as well
as the four anxious men peeking out the night club door. He drew away from Anita reluctantly and sighed wistfully.
Zerbrowski seized the opportunity given him and climbed out of the car, clearing his throat loudly.
"So happy to see that you two lovebirds have kissed and made up, and you know there's nothing I like better than a happy
ending, but we do have a perpetrator to process here, Blake," the sergeant grumbled.
Anita sighed heavily and stepped back from Jean-Claude, stealing little kisses from him as she did. "I have to go," she
told him. She reached up and ran the back of her hand down the side of his face. "Can I call you later?"
Jean-Claude nodded. "Oui," he replied breathily. He moved aside and walked her around the car to the passenger side, opening
the door for her. "I will look forward to it."
Zerbrowski chuckled. "You know, I've got to hand it to you, Jean-Claude. Maybe you could give me a few pointers when I
get in the hotseat with the wife. The way you just handled Blake, blew me away." He paused and lowered his voice. "Hey, tell
me something. Does Blake really snore when she sleeps?"
"Zerbrowski," Anita growled, climbing into the car. "The perp, remember?"
Jean-Claude laughed lightly and shook his head. "No. She sleeps like an angel," he told the sergeant. He peered down at
Anita and smiled.
"Figures you'd recant that now," Zerbrowski said, rolling his eyes in exasperation, and slid into the driver's seat again.
"Can't say I blame you."
Jean-Claude closed the car door and leaned down to peer into the window at Anita. He gestured at the vampire in the back
"Go easy on her, ma petite," he whispered in Anita's ear. "She is very young. She did not know any better."
Anita nodded and squeezed Jean-Claude's hand. "Don't worry. I'll take care of her," she murmured back.
They kissed again with a tender, languid passion until Zerbrowski turned the ignition. Jean-Claude straightened and stepped
The car eased away from the curb and Anita released Jean-Claude's hand and blew him a kiss. The vampire smiled and watched
her go, folding his arms across his chest in quiet contentment. Then he turned slowly, and faced the four men at the door.
"You can come out now," he called to them. "It's safe."
Asher slipped out first and approached Jean-Claude, shaking his head. "That was poetry to behold, mon ami."
"Way to go," Jason congratulated him, thumping him heartily on the back. "Jean-Claude! My man!"
"I think we're all pretty impressed," Micah put in. Richard nodded.
"All's well that ends well, I guess," the Ulfric said. "But I think just to be safe, we had better call it a night."
Everyone nodded in mutual agreement and readily stepped off the curb to cross the street where the limousine was parked.
"True," Asher said quietly. "I would not care to tempt fate by coming to this particular place again, but I must say, I
would not be adverse to venture out like this again."
"It was...enlightening," Jean-Claude admitted. "And enriching."
Jason grinned. "You know, we really should do this more often," he added. "You gotta admit it, we had a blast."
Somewhat reluctantly, everyone shrugged and nodded.
"Only next time, let me, or Micah pick the place," Richard grumbled.
Micah drew up beside Jean-Claude. "Maybe next time, we'll go out of town, just to be sure."
Jean-Claude smiled and wrapped his arm around the wereleopard's shoulder.
Next time, his friends had said. So there would be a next time. The idea pleased him, but he hoped with all his heart the
motivating circumstances for another boys' night out would be decidedly different. Let someone else be in the doghouse for