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full circle

Asher and Jean-Claude's relationship has become a little strained lately, which forces Anita to make a decision that will effect them all.
Rated NC-17 for adult subject matter and strong sexual content
Disclaimer: The Anitaverse, its content and characters are all property of author Laurell K. Hamilton.  This fic was written solely for entertainment purposes and no profit will be made from it ever.
Please note: This fic contains slash. 

Full Circle


The two vampires stared at each other....You could feel their pain on the air. I realized something I hadn't before. They had loved each other once. Only love can turn into such bitter regret.

                                                ~ Burnt Offerings ~



Asher stood before the fireplace mantle, staring up at the painting Belle Morte had sent with Musette as a gift to Jean-Claude. Not wanting to commit a social faux pas, it was hung above the mantle that night, replacing the one of Asher, Jean-Claude, and Julianna. Both portraits were painful for Asher, but this one humiliated him and mocked him, he decided.

The throaty groans coming from the other room were getting louder. Asher tried to ignore the sound.

After all, this painting displayed him naked and aroused, his coy lover poised just behind him. The depiction was entirely flattering, but knowing anyone happening by could look upon it--upon him--was intolerable. This living room certainly saw enough traffic. It wasn't right to hang such an intimate picture of him in such a prominent place.

Asher's keen ears now picked up a series of deep masculine gasps and sighs. Frowning, he glanced down the hall towards Jean-Claude's bedroom.

Maybe the painting wouldn't bother him quite so much if he still looked like that. Everyone who saw the portrait knew he didn't. And anyone who didn't, need only compare the beautiful sleeping man in the painting to the actual model--if he happened to be around at the time of the viewing, and then the truth would be known in the blink of an eye.

Then again, maybe it was the history behind the painting that rubbed Asher the wrong way. He and Jean-Claude had posed for numerous portraits together in the past, but none as provocative as this one. Clearly the painting was a depiction of two lovers, not just Cupid and Psyche. It was true, Asher and Jean-Claude were lovers then. You could see it in Jean-Claude's eyes. His expression as he gazed at the "sleeping" Asher was that precise mixture of love, lust, and awe.

Asher remembered the sitting for this painting too vividly, despite the centuries which had since passed. What he wouldn't give to have Jean-Claude gaze upon him like that once more. It was always these little things he recalled about his affair with Jean-Claude these days. The good things. Things Asher missed more and more lately.

It had taken weeks for the artist, as skilled as he was, to reach the point where his subjects were no longer needed in the flesh. For hours Jean-Claude and Asher posed, motionless for the most part--which was not too terribly difficult for a vampire to achieve, but the expression and the arousal needed to ultimately convey the painting's statement, they were not able to sustain. The artist's solution was to let the lovers at each other from time to time.

And have at each other they did. Over and over in the course of a night, making love on the silk draped pedestal before the painter as if they were in their own private bed. Once sated, the lovers would dutifully resume their poses with their skin a little more flushed and moist, their lips a little more fuller, and their bodies still ripe with their resulting passion. It was a perfect and most enjoyable ploy, Asher recollected, a faint smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He sighed wistfully.

What a couple they were, often acting like they were on a honeymoon--holding hands and stealing kisses in the moonlight. They were so in love with each other, and never passed an opportunity to show it. Jean-Claude was always openly affectionate with Asher. And Asher readily adored him. Ah, Jean-Claude. Beautiful and sensual and passionate. What a superlative lover he was.

The sounds from the bedroom reached an obvious crescendo, pulling Asher out of his reverie of the past and dumping him, unceremoniously, back into the present.

Finally, Asher thought. At least they were finished. Taking a deep breath and turning on his heel, Asher strode into the hallway and headed for Jean-Claude's bedroom. It was time to get this out in the open once and for all. Without knocking, he threw open the door and glided in.

Jean-Claude's mouth was still fastened to the Nimir-Raj's neck. His lips were tinted red and wet with Micah's blood. He raised his dark blue eyes to Asher as he approached the bed, his brow furrowing slightly.

Asher noted the way the wereleopard reclined in Jean-Claude's arms, his head lolling to the side against the vampire's shoulder. Like the vampire holding him, Micah was naked. His eyes were closed, his lips were parted, and he was clearly sapped from Jean-Claude's power over him just as Jean-Claude was clearly satiated from having just ingested a belly-full of the wereleopard's potent blood.

"I want to speak to you about something," Asher announced, putting his hands on his hips and trying to strike an indifferent pose.

His eyes locked on Asher's, Jean-Claude withdrew his fangs from Micah's neck and languidly passed his tongue over the seeping wounds a few times before replying.


Asher nodded determinedly, struggling a little with his affectation of apathy as he watched Jean-Claude stroke the wereleopard's chest with those large elegant hands of his.

"Yes now," Asher said, perhaps a little too harshly. "Since you've been in here all night with him, I wouldn't think demanding a moment of your time is too terribly audacious of me."

Jean-Claude's grip on the Nimir-Raj tightened, his eyes flashed, and he raised his head.

"Demand, mon ami?"

Losing his resolve, Asher dropped his eyes from Jean-Claude momentarily and swallowed hard. "It is but a simple request, really, Jean-Claude. A favor for me, from you."

Jean-Claude's expression softened, and he resumed licking Micah's wounds, dragging his tongue over the wereleopard's jaw to his ear.

Stirring, Micah opened his eyes and smiled drowsily up at Asher. He raised his hand and slowly, caressingly, dragged it through Jean-Claude's hair, in a sense, holding the vampire's face to his cheek.

Asher narrowed his eyes, his throat tightening.

Jean-Claude pressed a soft, deliberate kiss against Micah's ear.

"Merci," he whispered, then lightly kissed him again.

Turning away, Asher spied the Nimir-Raj's clothes draped over the chair to his left. Impulsively, he snatched them up, and reached out towards Micah, seizing his hand. All but hauling the wereleopard out of Jean-Claude's arms and off the bed, Asher shoved his clothes at him, and steered him towards the bedroom door.

"Yes, thank you," Asher stated, sounding less than gracious. "Could you excuse us now? There is a matter I wish to discuss with Jean-Claude in private, if you don't mind."

Micah grasped his head with one hand, wincing at the sudden forceful movements his blooded body was being subjected to.

"Have a care, Asher, my head," he murmured. "My head."

Asher released him. "Of course. Forgive me. Go...lie on the sofa in the living room awhile until you recuperate."

Dutifully, the Nimir-Raj pulled open the bedroom door, peering over his shoulder at the vampire reclining rather provocatively on the bed now. Micah smiled, and inclined his head at him, before disappearing into the hall.

Asher nearly slammed the door behind him. He whirled around to face Jean-Claude, unleashing on him, the full extent of his acute displeasure.

"Is Anita aware of the way you two frolic in her absence, and so blatantly in my presence?"

Jean-Claude sat up, facing Asher, his eyes darkening with anger. "Since when does my feeding provoke this kind of veiled accusation from you? Anita is fully aware that I take from the Nimir-Raj from time to time. I do not know what has gotten into you lately, mon ami, but you are not exactly endearing yourself to me tonight, considering you come seeking a favor."

Asher moved to the bed and tentatively sat down beside his friend and ex-lover. The lover he so desperately wanted back. He reached out and trailed his fingers softly along Jean-Claude's jaw, but the other vampire turned his face away from him. Asher let his hand fall heavily on the quilted comforter.

"I am sorry, Jean-Claude," Asher began humbly, letting his eyes flow over Jean-Claude's nude body in places his hands were forbidden. "It was wrong of me to insinuate such a thing." Then more quietly: "It is wrong for me to feel the way I do when you are with him. But I can't help it."

Jean-Claude sighed, slipping off the bed, and over to his robe which lay across the settee at the far side of the room. He pulled it on and belted it tightly before turning to face Asher, still sitting on the bed.

"I accept your apology," Jean-Claude muttered, somewhat tersely. "I am happy to hear you recognize your feelings are flawed. You've no reason, and no right, to be jealous."

Rising to his feet, Asher looked at Jean-Claude and shook his head. "My feelings may be flawed, but only because they make me miserable, and I should not have to be subjected to them. I do not like feeling this way, but it does not stop me from feeling it. And I never admitted to being jealous, mon ami," he continued quietly. "You are making assumptions."

Jean-Claude closed his eyes and took a deep breath, turning away from Asher to putter about the room. "Am I? Then what was this whole angry episode about, Asher, if not about you feeling slighted again?"

Stung by Jean-Claude's brusqueness, Asher stalked over to the other vampire and seized his upper arms, forcing him to look at him and forcing him against his body.

"And I have every right to feel slighted, mon ami!" Asher snapped. "I am forever being slighted, even by those closest to me. I am only allowed to taste what others consume--bear witness to a banquet of sensual feasts that I cannot partake in. Again and again I am denied. Deprived. It hurts, Jean-Claude. It breaks my heart."

Jean-Claude shook his head, his eyes widening as he tried to free himself from Asher's grasp. "And what is it you feel you are being so deprived of? What feasts have been placed before you which you cannot indulge in? I have given you everything, offered you everything I have. Is it my fault your own feelings of inadequacy prevent you from pursuing your needs? The very moment you allied yourself to me, I have withheld nothing from you. Nothing!"

Asher tightened his grip on Jean-Claude's arms. Slowly, he lowered his head to Jean-Claude's upturned face, his lips hovering just a hair's breadth over Jean-Claude's lips.

"I want you," Asher murmured and moved to capture Jean-Claude's mouth with his own.

But Jean-Claude jerked his head back before Asher could kiss him.

"No," the other vampire growled suddenly, so softly and deeply, the word was more a reverberating sensation than an audible denial. Asher froze. The air between the two vampires became charged with power, filling Jean-Claude's quiet voice when he spoke again with an effective deterring force. "Let go of me."

Asher immediately released Jean-Claude, having no choice but to comply. Stepping away from him, he peered at his friend through rapidly watering eyes.

"Jean, I love you--"

"You came in here to ask a favor," Jean-Claude reminded him, clearly declaring the previous subject closed to any further discussion. He pulled his robe tighter around him and clutched it to his body as if suddenly chilled. "What was it?"

Asher sighed and looked down at the floor in front of his feet, struggling with his composure. It wouldn't do any good to fall apart at this point.

"The painting above the mantle," Asher murmured. "Would you consider taking it down from there for me?" He paused and wet his lips with the tip of his tongue. "I...do not care to be on exhibit, so to speak." He blinked a few times before raising his eyes once more.

Jean-Claude was staring at him with an unreadable expression. For the longest time, he neither moved nor spoke. Finally he nodded, slowly and deliberately.

"Of course. You should have said something to me about it before." He stepped towards Asher and frowned. "Would you mind so much if I placed it in here? Anita is quite fond of it actually. I wouldn't want to put it away completely out of sight for that reason."

"And for that reason alone?" Asher whispered.

Now Jean-Claude bowed his head. "No. I like it too. It is a beautiful rendition of you and...it brings back memories."

"Happy memories? Or painful ones?"

"Both," Jean-Claude admitted. He sighed heavily and looked into Asher's eyes. "But then, having you so close to me, in the flesh, brings to mind more memories than any painting ever could."

Tentatively, Asher stretched out his hand and placed it on Jean-Claude's cheek and caressed him gently. Jean-Claude closed his eyes and leaned his face into Asher's hand momentarily before bowing his head and stepping back.

"And being close to you again is--" Bliss? Torture? Heaven? Hell? Asher paused and lowered his hand and then stepped farther away from Jean-Claude, not trusting himself to try to tempt fate once more. "You asked what has gotten into me lately," he went on. "Memories, Jean-Claude. Of how we used to be. Of how much I loved you, and how much you loved me."

"I still love you, Asher," Jean-Claude said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.

"As a friend," Asher added and tried to smile, but failed miserably. "And I should be grateful for at least having that kind of love from you. There were times I never thought to hear that sentiment cross your lips in reference to me again."

"Only because you did not want to hear it," the other vampire pointed out.

"And now, you say it freely, but without real feeling. Without any passion."

Jean-Claude looked away and placed his hands on his hips. "I cannot offer you my passion," he said simply, as if merely reminding Asher it was supposed to rain tonight. "I have explained this to you many times before. Anita has explained to you the reservations she has when it comes to us."

Asher shook his head. "But you and I both know, even if you were given Anita's permission to be with me again, you would not approach me in that manner, would you?"

Jean-Claude turned slightly to face Asher. "A lot has changed through the years, mon ami. To be frank, I just...don't know."

"Yes, you do," Asher countered, his temper rising at Jean-Claude's evasiveness. "Don't bother trying to spare my feelings. You cannot offer me passion because you have no passion for me anymore. You love me, but you are no longer in love with me."

"Ah," Jean-Claude exclaimed, flashing a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Now who is making assumptions? Just because I am unable to offer you my passion, you accuse me of simply being without, and then you erroneously equate passion with love. Which now brings us to the very point of the matter." He let his hands fall from his hips and grasped fistfuls of his hair in a gesture of frustration. "Perhaps I'm not in love with you the way you want me to be, but that is hardly my fault, now is it? We spoke of memories earlier. Yes, some of them are very happy, very pleasurable to recall, but there are other memories, darker and painful, that hold my love for you at bay. I cannot forget the way you treated me, Asher. For centuries, your cruelty knew no bounds. Your hatred followed me everywhere I went. Now, you say you love me...but I have heard those words before from you."

Asher's jaw slackened and dropped in surprise and dismay. "You don't believe me?"

"It is not a question of belief, Asher. It is more a matter of trust."


Jean-Claude looked towards the door suddenly, as if his eyes could see beyond its wooden structure. He took a deep cleansing breath.

"Anita will be here soon," he announced, readjusting and smoothing down his somewhat disheveled robe. "Let us greet her cheerfully, and not speak of these things anymore tonight. Please."

Asher was already moving towards the door, however. "As you wish, Jean-Claude. There will be no more talk of unrequited love. I promise."

Jean-Claude looked startled as Asher flung open the bedroom door. "Where are you going?"

Asher paused, spreading his arms to grasp the doorframe, needing to hold onto something solid. He did not turn to look at his friend, but studied the floor instead.

"Away. You don't really expect me to join you in your bed tonight after that little speech, do you?"

"Be angry with me," Jean-Claude declared hotly. "Fine. But don't take it out on Anita. She'll be disappointed if she does not get to see you tonight."

Swearing under his breath, Asher turned then, and faced Jean-Claude.

"Somehow, I doubt you'll disappoint her, mon ami. But if you feel peculiar going about it all alone again, invite the Nimir-Raj to join you." He gestured down the hall towards the living room where the wereleopard was more than likely asleep on the sofa. "Anita would not mind, considering he is her lover already, and come to think of it, from what you've told me tonight, you'd roll over for him sooner than you would for me, so why not make him a permanent replacement? Then everyone will be happy. Pleasures unlimited. Passions unbound."

Jean-Claude cleared his throat. "He is not my lover, Asher."

The other vampire shrugged. "Neither am I."

With that, he turned and walked out, leaving Jean-Claude to stare after him in a stunned silence.


Anita arrived twenty odd minutes later to find Jean-Claude lying across his bed, staring up at the now re-located Cupid and Psyche painting. She approached him, slipping out of her coat. She tossed it over a nearby chair on her way, smiling ear to ear.

"Well don't you look scrumptious?" she teased, her eyes gliding over her lover's prone, naked body, taking in his solid blue eyes, and deep labored breaths. "Looks like you started without me." She followed the direction of his gaze and saw the nude portrait of Asher. She laughed lightly, dropping onto the bed, and stretched out beside Jean-Claude. "Oh, that explains it."

Jean-Claude looked over at her somewhat coyly, his eyes bleeding back to normal. He summoned a tremulous smile.

"Ma petite," the vampire breathed and rolled towards her. "I was aware you were coming to me, and while waiting for you, I moved the painting in here. Looking upon it, I thought of Asher and me, of you, of the times we'd made love. It was all very arousing so I indulged myself for awhile." He pulled her to him and hugged her tightly. "But it was merely an appetizer."

"Uh huh," Anita replied dubiously. He was hugging her almost too tightly. She reached up to stroke the damp, twisted tendrils of hair fringing the side of his face. "What's wrong?"

Jean-Claude turned to look at her and laughed lightly. "Whatever gave you the idea that something is wrong? Everything is as right as rain."

Anita cracked a smile. "Is rain ever right?"

Now Jean-Claude smiled. "Normal, ma petite. I'm saying there is no need to be concerned. Everything is...normal."

Sighing, Anita leaned against Jean-Claude and wrapped her arms around his chest, settling her head on his shoulder.

"Then why are you clutching me like a kid's security blanket, why are you shielding from me, and where is Asher?"

"Asher will not be joining us this evening," he replied a little too quickly. "He...had other matters to attend to. He sends his regrets."

Anita pulled back from Jean-Claude far enough to look into his eyes. "Other matters?" She raised her brow suspiciously. "What aren't you telling me?"

In exasperation, Jean-Claude pushed Anita's arms off of him. "Believe me or not, ma petite. Either way, it does not matter to me. You can obviously see for yourself Asher is not here."

Sitting up, Anita narrowed her eyes at the perturbed vampire, and folded her suddenly empty arms across her chest.

"I never said I didn't believe you."

Jean-Claude stretched his arms out above his head, fixing his eyes on the ceiling. "I do not lie to you, ma petite. In fact, I take great pains to be excruciatingly honest with you now."

Anita cleared her throat. "Now," she agreed.

Turning slightly, Jean-Claude faced her and grinned, inclining his head in acquiescence.

"There is no need for you to worry," he went on, nonchalantly. "Asher simply wanted to be alone tonight." Quickly, the vampire turned away from Anita once more, and reschooled his expression, blanking out any hint of what he was actually feeling.

"Okay. He wanted to be alone. I understand." Anita laid down beside Jean-Claude again, and placed her hand on his chest. She traced the edges of his scar with her index finger and made little whorls in the fine black hairs around it.

Slowly, Jean-Claude lowered his arms around her, leaned over, and kissed the top of her head. He sighed heavily, holding her close.

"So it will be just you and me tonight," he continued. "You do not mind, do you?"

Anita shook her head. "No. Of course not," she replied, giving him a little encouraging hug. "But I still get the feeling something's got you spooked, or something's bothering you, and I wish you'd just tell me about it."

Jean-Claude frowned. "I am fine. I am enjoying just being with you. Sometimes it is just nice to be held, isn't it? But ma petite is growing impatient, I can tell." He peered down at her searchingly and then began dotting her cheek with feather-soft kisses. His hands skimmed the edges of her clothes suggestively. "Is this better?"

Anita frowned. "We don't have to make love tonight, you know. As a matter of fact, I think I'd rather talk."

"I'd rather make love," Jean-Claude countered and grasped her head in his hands, then covered her mouth with his in a devouring kiss.

Anita wiggled free of him and inhaled deeply. "I want you to talk to me first, Jean-Claude," she ordered him. "Start by telling me why Asher isn't here. What happened between you two?"

Jean-Claude pressed Anita back against the mattress and lay over her. "Ma petite," he whispered. "Just lie back and let me take care of you." He passed his hand over her eyes and delicately kissed her lashes. "Do not worry your pretty little head over another thing. I know how to make everything right."

"Right as rain," she commented somewhat breathlessly, noting Jean-Claude was turning up the seduction now, nibbling on her neck and squeezing her breast with slow, savoring caresses. He started unbuttoning her blouse, but Anita determinedly pushed his hands away. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were trying to avoid answering my question."

"I don't want to talk about Asher," Jean-Claude confessed. "I want to dance with you." He kissed her again, banishing her interfering hands above her head, then finished unbuttoning her blouse. "Oh, you are so beautiful, ma petite. When you are close to me, I ache for you. I cannot help but desire you." His hand slid up her thigh, over her garter and under her skirt as he once more sunk his lips down on hers.

Feeling herself now relieved of her satin undergarment, Anita whimpered and tried to pry her jaw free, but Jean-Claude only deepened the kiss, penetrating her mouth with his tongue as his fingers penetrated her below. Anita squeaked, then moaned, and her eyes fluttered shut. All resistance slowly ebbed away.

Jean-Claude smiled at her knowingly. "Oui, ma amante," he encouraged her, stroking her insides with his hands and his voice. "See. I will take care of you."

Her questions momentarily forgotten, Anita drew Jean-Claude closer, kissing him back now with as much zeal as he had kissed her. She wrapped her legs around his hips and ran her hands fervently up and down his sides.

Readily, he took her, moving against her with a rarely displayed sense of urgency and need. Anita started crying out shrilly, and writhed beneath him so forcefully, he could not kiss or caress her any longer. Instead he focused on the friction, the rhythm, and the heat of his lover's body. It was all over in a matter of minutes. He collapsed in a satiated heap on top of her as she sprawled across the bed beneath him.

Anita groaned. "Oh...wow," she panted and reached up to bury her hands in Jean-Claude's hair. She pried his head up off her shoulder. "Are you going to start talking to me now?"

"Anything my heart desires," Jean-Claude murmured and captured her mouth in a lush, wet kiss as his hands worked to free her from the rest of her clothing. He was still inside her, still hard, and obviously willing and able to satisfy her all over again.

Lavishing her with a steady stream of breathy French endearments into her ear, the vampire pulled Anita up against him and peeled away her blouse, then dropped it over the side of the bed. He encircled her with his arms and snapped the clasp of her bra, pressing soft kisses over her décolletage and delving his tongue into her cleavage.

"That wasn't what I meant," Anita began rather thickly. "And you know it, damnit."

Jean-Claude laughed lightly, slipping the straps of her bra off her shoulders. "My lips cannot caress you and speak to you at the same time, ma petite," he duly informed her and demonstrated by covering her nipple with his mouth and drawing it in between his teeth.

Anita took a deep breath and quivered, but she grabbed fistfuls of the vampire's long hair and wrenched him away from her, determined not to let him seduce her again just yet.

"You know, the more you try to distract me, the more suspicious you're making me," she told him, looking him squarely in the eye.

Jean-Claude scowled back at her. "Since when is my lovemaking a distraction?" He released her and rose off of her to stand at the foot of the bed beside one of the large oak posts. He leaned against it with a heavy sigh.

Anita swore under her breath and clamored off the bed after him, wriggling out of her crushed, wrinkled skirt and throwing it forcefully aside..

"When you start using it as a distraction!" she scolded. "And since when are you so fucking sensitive? Don't tell me there's nothing wrong!"

"I am sensitive," the vampire shot back.

"You are not," Anita argued. "You have the thickest-skin of anybody I know."

"Only because I am so good at hiding what I feel," Jean-Claude replied, lowering his eyes. "But I am not immune to pain. I can still be hurt. I've been hurt many times before."

Hesitantly, Anita drew up beside Jean-Claude, and slowly turned his face to hers. She stretched up on her toes and kissed him tenderly.

"Asher hurt you tonight, didn't he?" she asked quietly, wrapping her arms around Jean-Claude's waist and snuggling her head against his chest.

He hugged her tightly. "I am afraid he will hurt me if I let him. He won't mean to, it will just be one of those things, but it seems inevitable. He pricks at my heart even now with his whispered promises and tokens of newfound love."

Anita blinked up at him. "But you've always known how he adores you. What's he done now?"

Jean-Claude licked his lips, unable to disguise his apprehension. "He tried to kiss me."

Anita didn't seem particularly surprised. "Well, you two have always been affectionate with each other. Hasn't he ever kissed you before?"

"No. Never. And definitely not the way he intended to tonight," Jean-Claude told her. "I think being with me when I am with you is making him feel nostalgic. He wants us to be lovers again. I could feel his desire tonight and it was consuming him. No doubt his kiss was meant to sweep me off my feet, and carry me away--to my bed." He paused, his expression hardening with anger. "He knows how you feel. He knows how I feel. Yet lately, he has become aggressive in his pursuit of me and his selfishness aggravates me to no end."

"Sssh," Anita soothed him, reaching up to stroke the side of his face. "It's all right, really. Don't be mad at him. He loves you so much. He can't help himself."

Jean-Claude shrugged. "That is what he said. He cannot help how he feels. But he needs to control himself. I won't have him jeopardizing my relationship with you. I will send him away if he does not behave himself."

Anita suddenly jerked away from Jean-Claude as if she'd just been shocked with electricity.

"You wouldn't dare!" she exclaimed, shaking her head vehemently. "That would kill him!"

Jean-Claude peered at her curiously. "It is your sensitivity I am trying to protect, ma petite. Yes, it would upset him, but he's threatened to leave us before. I hardly think banishing him would destroy him. Then again, I sincerely doubt it would even come to that. I need only threaten him with it and I believe he would quickly see the error of his ways."

"My sensitivity!" Anita shrieked. "I don't think it's my sensitivity at all! You're not pinning this decision on me! You send him away, it will be your own doing for your own reasons! How could you even consider such a thing! I love him, Jean-Claude. I thought you loved him too."

"I do love him!" Jean-Claude yelled back, startling Anita with the intensity of his anger and making her jump visibly. It shook the vampire enough to quash his rage and fill his eyes with unshed tears. He turned from her and sank slowly to the floor as if his legs would not hold him up anymore.

"I never thought it would be possible for me to love him again," he went on quietly. "But I love him madly. Stupidly, perhaps, because I entrusted my heart to him once, only to have him fling it back at me with such force, he shattered it. I needed his love desperately then, but he took everything I cherished away from me, and left me to die.

"For a long time, I hated him almost as much as he hated me. Now he says he loves me again. It troubles me because I know how vulnerable his love makes me, and I cannot afford that kind of vulnerability with someone like him anymore. I cannot offer him the kind of love he craves from me, and it is not just because of you. However, I'm worried he won't be content with anything less now. You know how emotional and erratic he is. I feel if I make one mistake with him, his love will turn again, and he and I will both be far worse off than we were the last time. Asher does not forgive mistakes lightly. Non. Loving him now could lead to permanent heartache. It is better if I just keep my distance from him. Maybe in time, this newfound infatuation of his will wane."

Wiping at her own misting eyes, Anita went to Jean-Claude and hugged him, burying her face in his hair.

"I understand," she whispered and kissed his cheek. "Once bitten, twice shy, huh?"

Jean-Claude laughed lightly, tears spilling from his eyes. "Oui. Something to that effect." He wrapped his arms around Anita's shoulders and leaned his head against hers, holding her close. For a long while, he pacified himself with her tender comforting, then he sniffed softly, straightened, and passed his hand over his cheeks, wiping away the drying remnants of his tears.

"You okay?" Anita whispered.

He nodded. "I love you, ma petite. I have made many mistakes with you in the past, but I have learned from those mistakes. Please know I would never intentionally do anything to risk losing your love."

"Oh, trust me, I know," Anita stated, frowning deeply. She sighed heavily and stroked Jean-Claude's back. "You're right. You are very, very good at hiding your feelings. I had no idea of the magnitude of what was going on between you and Asher. I knew it got a little tense at times, but that was understandable considering your past with him." She paused and kissed his forehead. "I'm so sorry, Jean-Claude. I'll make it up to you, I promise."

Jean-Claude pulled away from her, his brow furrowing in confusion. "You're sorry? Ma petite, whatever for?"

Anita started nibbling on the vampire's ear, caressing his chest before slithering her hand between his legs.

Jean-Claude closed his eyes and groaned softly as she stroked him. "Ma petite, if I did not know any better, I would say you were trying to distract me." He leaned back against the bedpost and pulled Anita into his lap.

"Would I do that?" she breathed seductively, then moaned with pleasure as she settled herself over him.

Jean-Claude gasped and grinned, taking hold of her hips and rocking her forward. "What are you sorry for? Just answer me that."

Anita encircled his neck with her arms and leaned forward to kiss him hungrily before replying. "Relax. I'm going to take care of you. I'm going to make everything right."

Jean-Claude laughed. "Then by all means. You have my blessings."

Anita grinned. He had her blessings too, he just didn't know it yet.


Damian pulled a black cable-knit sweater over his head and peered at Anita from across the room.

"It will take longer to get there by car," the vampire pointed out. "Allowing for traffic, I would guess he's about an hour away. Across the river." He reached down and lifted a pair of black leather pants from the floor of his room and stepped into them.

"Yeah, I know where it is. I've been there before," Anita said, trying unsuccessfully to avert her eyes as her servant zipped up his pants. "I owe you big time for this, Damian. We could have never found Asher without your help. We would have never thought to look there for him, of all places."

Damian shook his head, his long red hair spilling over his shoulders. "Your gratitude is appreciated, but not necessary. You know I would do anything for you, Anita. And it was no trouble to find him, really. He hasn't exactly been inconspicuous while in Narcissus' company."

Anita sighed. "Well, are you ready?"

The vampire nodded. "Yes. Are you? You look a little...uptight, if you don't mind my saying."

Closing her eyes, Anita groaned. "Oh, just the thought of going back into that club and seeing that...creature again makes my skin crawl," she confessed. She opened her eyes to find Damian standing directly in front of her. She gasped.

"Calm down," Damian admonished her. "There's no need to worry. I'll be right beside you. I won't let anything happen to you. I swear it. They'll have to kill me if they want to harm you. And I promise I'll kill the lot of them before they do."

Anita smiled. It sounded as if Damian were merely spouting off, but deep down, Anita knew the vampire meant every word. She leaned forward and lightly touched his lips with hers.

"I know," she breathed. "And don't you worry. I'll kill anybody who tries to hurt you too." She drew her Browning, spun it a couple of times in her hand and reholstered it.

Damian grinned. "No doubt loaded with silver bullets. The bane of shapeshifters near and far. Between you and me, they don't stand a fucking chance."

"And Jason and Zane and Bobby Lee," Anita added. "Don't forget. They're going to meet us there." She took a deep breath and turned around. "All right. Let's do this. Let's go get Asher."


Anita's gut seized as she pulled into the lot of the infamous bondage club called Narcissus In Chains. The place still gave her the creeps. Too many bad memories. Maybe the fact she'd nearly been killed here once had something to do with it. Damn Asher. Out of all the places for him to go, why did he have to come here? Anita thought, parking the car and peering out the window in disgust.

She shouldn't be feeling so anxious about this little transaction she was about to undertake. Things would be different this time. The werehyenas were now in her debt. They had no cause or desire to harm her. Then, Narcissus was more than aware of the power Jean-Claude wielded now, and had been threatened by the master vampire within every molecule of the werehyena's duel-sexed, shapeshifting body should anything happen to Anita while she was here.

Evidently, Narcissus wisely took the vampire at his word and was standing at the door of his club waiting to personally escort Anita into his humble abode. It soothed Anita's apprehension even more seeing Jason with Bobby Lee and Zane just behind him.

Damian dutifully followed Anita to the entrance and slipped his hand into hers when they came up before Narcissus. He knew his touch helped calm her and was given permission--by Jean-Claude no less--to utilize this aspect of their peculiar relationship whenever he deemed it necessary. Tonight, Anita was grateful for his power, and squeezed his hand tightly, drawing him closer.

"Ah, the beautiful and powerful Anita Blake," Narcissus greeted dramatically. "I am truly honored to be graced by your presence here this evening." He curtsied before her with all the grace and allure of a practiced courtier, sweeping aside his long black skirts rather elegantly.

Jason moved to stand beside Anita and leaned over to peck her lightly on the cheek. "Hiya gorgeous," he whispered, slipping his arm around her waist.

Anita smiled at him, nodding at Bobby Lee and Zane graciously, before turning her attention on the master werehyena at the door.

"Don't bother asking for my weapons tonight, Narcissus," she told him outright. "I'm not stepping foot inside your club without the hardware." She smiled at him condescendingly.

Narcissus looked anything but pleased. "Rules are rules, Anita dear, and unfortunately we all must abide by them." He glanced at the men surrounding her, his resolve wavering somewhat. "I don't think I can persuade Asher to come out here. Please try to understand my position. I cannot allow firearms in my club." His heavily made-up eyes settled back on Anita and he frowned deeply. "Is it not enough that I, personally, have sworn to protect you? Then you have your quite capable entourage to accompany you and my hyenas' utter devotion. You'll be more than fine, Ms. Blake."

Anita made a face at him. "Oh fuck it," she muttered and handed over her Browning, then started stripping off her knives. "Bobby Lee, hand it over."

The wererat frowned and shook his head, but surrendered his single gun to the waiting bodyguard at Narcissus' side. "This is not a good idea, ma'am," he pointed out needlessly.

Anita looked up at him. "It'll be all right. We're only going in here to talk to Asher. We're not looking for a fight and we're not going to step on any toes, got it?" She glanced over at Zane, who merely shrugged, and then at Jason.

The young werewolf turned his attention on Narcissus. "Okay, but it's your head on the line, Narcissus," he said in a strangely pleasant tone and smiled. "I have Jean-Claude's permission to bring it to him on a platter if things go badly tonight. You might want to keep that in mind."

Narcissus sneered at him. "Jean-Claude is pushing the limits of my good-will and affection for him with these threats. If he wants a war on his hands he shall have one."

Anita stepped forward, raising her hands. "Look, we're willing to trust you!" she spat. "I gave you my gun. Now take me to Asher before I rip this fucking place apart! And if I find you've done anything to him--and I mean anything, I will personally drag you out into the street and beat the tar out of you before blowing you away. Now that's my threat, Narcissus, not Jean-Claude's."

"Oh!" the werehyena snarled in exasperation, turning on his heel to go back into the club. "Uncouth creatures, every last one of you! No regard for protocol or respect. This is my domain! You're here on my good faith! Try to remember that!"

Anita and Jason turned to look at one another and smiled. Damian took up a position on the other side of Anita while Zane and Bobby Lee brought up the rear. Together, they followed the master hyena deep into the bowels of his exclusive home.


Narcissus led Anita to one of the back bedrooms through a twisting maze of dim hallways. Zane and Bobby Lee agreed to wait outside the door for Anita since Jason and Damian were accompanying her inside.

Knocking softly, Narcissus waited until he was given Asher's consent before entering.

"Someone is here to see you, Asher, my love," Narcissus hailed sweeping into the room and gathering up his long skirts.

Asher was sitting at the head of a large bed, his knees drawn up to his chest encircled with his arms. He was wearing a pair of ratty-looking gray sweat pants and nothing else. His long blonde hair fell in soft waves down his back and over his sinewy shoulders. His eyes were red-rimmed and dull, and his fair complexion was beyond pale. Looking up as Narcissus entered, he scowled at him fiercely.

"I told you I wished to be left alone," Asher growled. His expression changed when he spied Anita however. He rose from the bed and went to her, catching her up into his arms and crushing her small body to his.

"Asher, honey, I can't breathe," Anita gasped, but hugged him back as tightly as she could. "Let me--"

Asher suddenly kissed her, long and hard, taking away what little breath she had left inside her.

When Asher finally released her, Anita all but swooned, and not entirely from a lack of oxygen. She grasped his forearms and slumped against his chest, her whole body tingling.

"I'm so happy to see you," Asher told her, running his hands up and down her back. "You don't know how much I've longed to be with you these past few nights. I missed you. I have been so lonesome here."

"There was no need for that, my dear," Narcissus spoke up. Everyone turned to face him as if they'd forgotten he was even in the room. "I told you I would send you anyone you wished. I even generously offered myself, if you recall." Here he paused and made a point of looking directly at Anita. "He turned me down. I never touched him. I swear."

Anita focused back on Asher and shook her head. "What are you doing in this hell hole?"

Clearly taking offense, the master werehyena narrowed his eyes, and put his hands on his slim hips. Anita ignored him.

Asher sighed heavily and guided Anita over to the bed, motioning for her to sit down. Damian and Jason stood together at the door.

"I wanted to piss off Jean-Claude," the vampire explained. "I wanted to make him jealous like the last time, so he'd appreciate me more." Asher frowned and bowed his head. "But my heart wasn't in it. I couldn't go through with it." His eyes sought out the werehyena now sitting at the foot of the bed on the opposite side. "So instead I asked Narcissus to allow me to stay here a little while and he graciously complied."

Anita faced the shapeshifter. "Thanks, I guess. For not being nefarious and taking advantage of Asher in this whole sordid mess."

Narcissus inclined his head. "I accept your words of gratitude, my dear," he began, "but I don't suppose you'd care to offer me a small token of your affection for my troubles?" His eyes drifted from Anita to Damian, then Jason. "If not you, perhaps one of your servants?"

Anita shot to her feet. "No fucking way!" Asher tried to grab hold of her, but she twisted away from him. "You know, normal people just say things like, 'oh, you're quite welcome, it was no trouble at all', but you've got to milk every goddamned favor for what it's worth. Do you even have to be in here? Don't you have somebody to go torture?"

Narcissus rose fluidly to his feet and turned away from Anita to face Asher. "Talk to her, lover. Explain to her how these things are done. I understand she is young, but certainly old enough to know some manners." He turned then and glared at Anita.

Jason covered up a laugh by pretending to cough. Damian came forward and pulled Anita into his arms, pressing her back tightly to his chest.

Clearly intrigued, the werehyena peered over at the red-headed vampire and raised his brow. "This one should do nicely."

Damian shook his head and tightened his grip on Anita. "Sorry. I don't swing that way."

Narcissus reached up and trailed his finger over Damian's cheek, ignoring Anita's heated gaze. "Doesn't matter which way you swing with me, my friend."

Anita slapped Narcissus' hand away. "No you don't! You didn't trouble yourself enough for Asher to deserve the likes of him!" She gestured at the blonde vampire still sitting on the edge of the bed. "In case you haven't noticed, Narcissus, Asher looks like shit."

"Well, he won't eat," Narcissus announced suddenly. "As far as I know, he hasn't eaten the entire time he's been here. Believe me, we all tried to entice him. We all wanted to experience that notorious bite of his, but he wouldn't touch us. He wouldn't touch anybody. He'd cruise the club every night, but he didn't want company. He wouldn't even come out tonight. He just stayed in here all alone in the darkness. It wasn't my fault."

Wiggling free of Damian's grasp, Anita went back to Asher and sat beside him. She reached up and brushed the ever-present hair from the right side of his face.

"Why are you doing this?" she whispered. "What are you trying to prove?"

Asher took hold of her hand and squeezed it. "Nothing. I just needed time to think and decide what to do."

"Come home, Asher," Anita insisted. "Please. Come home tonight."

Asher shook his head. "I can't, cherie. I can never go back."

Struck by the gravity of his words, Anita froze beside him. The thought of never seeing him again--of losing him as a lover now as well as a friend--was almost too much to bear.

"Why not?" she asked in a small, squeaky voice, her throat tightening uncomfortably. "I love you so much. Don't leave, please."

Asher took a deep breath. "I don't want to leave, ma cherie, but I cannot stay with Jean-Claude any longer knowing how he truly feels about me. Knowing he has never forgiven me. And that he does not love me."

"He does love you!" Anita shouted, seizing his arms and shaking him as if trying to instill some sense into him. "I know he loves you!"

Asher's icy blue eyes flashed. "But he won't tolerate my affection," the vampire growled. "Do you call that love? No. That is not love." Asher paused and clenched his fists to his chest. "There is only so much I can endure, Anita. Only so much my heart can take. When I am close to him, I yearn with need for him. You cannot ask me to share his bed with you night after night when I am not even allowed to caress him, never mind the fact that, what I really want to do, is make love to him. Sweet, passionate love.

"Put yourself in my place, cherie. It should be easy for you since you love him the way I do. Picture him, lying there. Naked and beautiful, his eyes smoldering with passion, his sex swollen with the anticipation of love. Now, imagine watching him surrender his body to another while you lie beside him. Feel his movements as he loves the person positioned between you. Hear him whisper her name with desire and not yours. See him satisfy her over and over again, and then...when you reach out to touch him, watch him pull away from you."

The room had grown very quiet and very still during Asher's explicit comparison. When it became apparent, everyone suddenly sprung into action, averting their eyes rather conspicuously from Anita and Asher. Jason cleared his throat and pretended to study some chains arranged decoratively on the wall. Damian glided to the foot of the bed and brushed determinedly at some imaginary lint on the black spread. Narcissus gaped openly at Asher and fanned himself with his hand.

Trying desperately not to blush, Anita leaned away from Asher slightly. "I know," she said evenly. "But don't you see, he's afraid to let you too close. He's trying to abide by my wishes. It's hard on him too."

"Do not kid yourself, ma cherie," Asher said quietly. "His devotion to you is simply a convenient excuse he uses. He is not in love with me anymore. He does not want me."

"Well, what do you expect, Asher?" Anita protested, recalling her poignant conversation with Jean-Claude the night Asher had left. "He's scared. Scared of losing me by letting you love him, and scared of the consequences he might suffer if he lets himself love you back." She paused, gnawing her lower lip fitfully, debating on how much of what she knew she should tell him. Finally, she took a deep breath. "He still loves you. He says he doesn't want to, but he can't help it. What you need to do is convince him what you feel for him is real, and not just some flighty infatuation. Let him know it is all right to love you again."

Asher got to his feet and stalked to the other side of the room, turning his back on Anita and the others.

"If he loves me so much, then why isn't he here? Why didn't he come to beg me back home?" He turned suddenly and pointed at Anita. "You're here. That tells me everything I need to know."

"Oh Asher!" Anita hissed, slamming her fists ineffectively on the bed mattress. "You're so fucking stubborn! You're so fucking thick-headed and fucking cowardly sometimes--"

Damian quickly dropped onto the bed and seized Anita's arms. She struggled against him, but he pulled her to him and hugged her. He looked up at Asher over Anita's head and frowned.

"Sorry. I didn't see that one coming. She's just upset over your decision to leave. We all are. She didn't mean that."

"Oh yes I did!" Anita stated, fighting to free herself of Damian's grasp. Finally, she faced him and looked him directly in the eyes. "Back off. Now."

Damian took a deep breath and let his arms slide off her, rising to his feet as if pulled up by strings. He shot Asher another apologetic look, and stepped away from the bed.

Anita climbed less than gracefully to her feet. "Jean-Claude didn't come here because I wouldn't let him." She flung her arm back, gesturing at the werehyena who had resumed his place at the foot of the bed. "I couldn't handle Narcissus making passes at him all night, and then, I didn't think you were ready to talk to him yet." She paused and looked over at Jason, who nodded at her encouragingly. "Besides, I wanted to talk to you alone first. There's something we need to discuss."

"There is nothing to discuss, ma cherie," Asher said and sighed. "I have already made up my mind."

Anita went to him and put her hands on his hips, turning him around to face her fully. "What if I gave you my blessings to be with Jean-Claude," she began slowly and deliberately. "What if I said there was a way you could win his heart again and that I wanted you to go after him with everything you've got?"

Asher stared down at Anita barely daring to breathe. For a long time, he said nothing and did not move. Anita rubbed her palms over his taut hips as if trying to warm her hands on his cold, cold skin.

"Asher, answer me," she whispered. "Don't go all spooky on me now."

As if emerging from a trance, Asher shook himself slightly and blinked several times. "Are you sure, cherie? You must be absolutely sure, because if he senses the slightest hesitation in your conviction, he'll put a stop to it once and for all. He won't risk losing you."

Again, Anita locked eyes with Jason. "Well, I've talked this over with a friend of mine, and he seems to think if I don't stop enforcing this decree, I run the risk of losing something precious to me. I'm already at risk of losing you because of it. At first the idea didn't sit well with me, but the more I think about it, the more I'm comfortable with it. I know you're in love with each other. And I know without a doubt, both of you love me. So, no more decree. I want him to be happy. I want you to be happy."

Asher placed his hands on Anita's shoulders and cast a rather dubious expression her way. "What did Jean-Claude say when you told him about this?"

Anita cleared her throat. "Actually, I haven't said anything to him yet. I've been kind of waiting for the right time and it hasn't exactly come yet."

Asher shook his head. "Anita, I don't believe you are one hundred percent sure about this, but I do believe you mean well. Then, it isn't simply your lack of consent that keeps Jean-Claude's heart out of my reach, and under lock and key. Because of that, I'm afraid this noble gesture of yours isn't going to work. You said it yourself, I treated him like shit the last time he loved me. And now...he doesn't want to love me. Even with your consent, he's going to fight me every step of the way."

"Then fight him back, Asher," Anita told him. "Make him fall in love with you again. I know you can do it, 'cause you won his heart before."

Jason dragged his hand through his short, spiky hair thoughtfully, and faced Asher. "Anita's right. Just go after him again the same way. Make him re-live his happier memories of the two of you falling in love. It'll be romantic."

Anita nodded. "How did you get him to fall in love with you the first time?" She smiled up at him, but it seemed to her that Asher actually blushed just then. A fairly impressive trick for a vampire. Anita raised her brow in intrigue. "Well?"

"I fucked him," Asher confessed, fighting hard not to smile. "He followed me around like a puppy after that."

"...Oh. Okay." Anita lowered her eyes and cleared her throat.

Narcissus stood up, his eyes flickering in Asher's direction. "It may have won him before, but it sounds to me like you'd have to rape him to get him to sleep with you now, Asher, my sweet," the werehyena offered. "I'll admit, I don't know very much about love, but I do know about fear, and if he won't love you because he's afraid of you, the best thing to do is pretend you're not after him at all."

All eyes turned to the werehyena.

"Have you ever watched a cat kill a mouse?" Narcissus continued. "They play with it first. It's fascinating to see. They will capture the little mouse and torture it until it all but seizes with fear, then they'll go off and leave it alone for a time. Eventually it starts moving again because it will start to feel safe. It moves, and the cat pounces on it! This goes on until the poor little mouse is dead of course, but the point I'm trying to make is this: you don't want to spook your mouse to the point of unresponsiveness. So back up a little. Give him some space to breathe through his fear. He already knows you're interested in him, so he'll keep his eye on you. But you let him make the first move, and he will when he believes he's safe, then you pounce."

Now the room's occupants exchanged wary glances.

"That was very philosophic in a dark and bizarre sort of way," Damian spoke up, then addressed Anita. "What's worse is I think he's right. Asher needs to take it slow. He needs to focus on reassuring Jean-Claude of the sincerity of his love, and not concentrate so much on seduction."

Wrapping her arms around Asher's waist, Anita looked up at him hopefully. "What do you say? Are you willing to give it a try?" She inclined her head at Damian and Jason. "We'll help you anyway we can. Just come home, Asher. Please, come home."

Asher cupped Anita's face in his large hands. "May I go with you and Damian for now? You're right. I'm not ready to face Jean-Claude again just yet. Then, I don't exactly look my best at the moment, and I'd like a chance to think this whole thing through."

Anita let her eyes flow over Asher's half-naked body from the top of his head all the way down to his bare toes. The thin, fraying sweat pants he was wearing hardly concealed what he looked like underneath and Anita caught herself licking her lips.

"Oh I don't know. You look pretty damn hot to me," she said with a crooked grin, fixing her eyes on his face once more. "But if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can come home with me for now. However, I want you to go talk to Jean-Claude tomorrow night. Just to let him know you're all right. He's been worried sick about you."

Asher bent down and pressed a soft kiss to Anita's lips. "Merci, ma cherie," he breathed and then kissed her again. "I don't know what I would do without you. I love you so very much."

Anita smiled. "I love you too, Asher." She took hold of his hands and stepped back.

Asher peered over at Jason. "I don't mean to impose on you, mon ami," he began hesitantly. "But I have not fed in the past forty-eight hours going on seventy-two. I'm a little shaky and very hungry."

Jason held up his hands. "Say no more." He glanced at Anita and started unbuttoning his shirt. "It will only take a few minutes, you don't mind do you?"

Anita shook her head. "No, of course not," she said softly, watching Jason undress. "Um...do you want us to leave you alone?"

"Non," Asher said, coming to stand behind Jason, his eyes already bleeding out into a solid pale blue. "Unless my taking him will make you uncomfortable." He wrapped his arm around his chest and grasped his forehead, tilting his head to the side.

Anita looked around and spied a solitary chair over by the door. "I'll just...ah...have a seat here until you two finish." She hurried over to the chair and dropped into it, motioning Damian to her and glaring over at Narcissus as she did. "I know you're a bit of a voyeur. Would letting you watch Asher with Jason be thanks enough for his room and board these past few nights?"

Narcissus grinned broadly, and stretched out on the bed to make himself more comfortable.

"Absolutely," he purred, fixing his eyes on the two entwined men. "How thoughtful of you to even consider offering such a thing."

Anita scowled back at him. "Well, since Asher and Jason don't seem to mind, it's all right by me, and I know from experience, you're about to get quite a show." Damian drew up beside her and she immediately seized hold of his hand. Then she looked up at Asher and waved him on. "Go on. I'll be fine. Then let's just get out of here, huh? This place makes my skin crawl."

Asher sighed deeply, knowingly. He tightened his grip on Jason, unleashing his power over him, and bit down on the thick muscle on the side of his neck. Jason groaned. Narcissus leered. Anita winced.


"Why won't you let me talk to him?" Jean-Claude grumbled over the phone. "I simply want to know he is well."

"He's fine," Anita told him, lowering her voice. "He's in the shower now."

Jean-Claude sighed heavily. "Did he say anything to you?"

"Not really. Look, you'll get to see him tomorrow night. You can ask him whatever you want then."

There was a long moment of silence on the other end of the line. Finally, Jean-Claude spoke.

"Very well," he conceded. "Just tell him I'm pleased to hear he is well, I hope he is not still angry with me, and tell him...I miss him."

Anita smiled. "I will. I promise." She took a deep breath. "I love you, Jean-Claude. Don't worry. Everything's going to be all right."

"Je t'aime, ma petite. I look forward to seeing you and Asher both, tomorrow evening."

"We'll be there," Anita stated firmly. "Good-night, Jean-Claude."

"Good-night to you, ma petite. You sound tired. Try to sleep a little tonight," Jean-Claude replied knowingly, as if suggesting sleeping for her might prove difficult with Asher around.

Grinning, Anita shook her head, knowing the vampire could not see her. "I will," she lied, and hung up the phone. Loosening the belt on her robe, she headed for the bathroom.


Micah was with Jean-Claude at the Circus. Nathaniel was working. Damian had gone out for the night. It was just Anita and Asher alone for a change, and Anita was determined to make the most out of it.

She pushed on the ajar bathroom door, and was immediately enveloped in a cloud of steam. Smiling, she slipped out of her robe, letting it fall to the floor, and padded over to the shower stall, her eyes drinking in the shimmery figure of the tall blonde vampire behind the glass doors, the image of him softly muted from the water's spray.

Facing away from her, Asher had his head completely under the pulsing spray, letting the hot soapy water flow over his waist-length hair and stream in rivulets down his back, his hips, and his long, shapely thighs. He did not turn around to look at her, but naturally, he was more than aware she was there.

"Have you come to join me, ma cherie?" he asked, his deep, cultured voice ringing out like a bell in the acoustical bathroom.

Anita smiled wider, stepping forward. She opened the shower door and stepped inside. "How'd you guess?"

Asher turned to face her then, and gave her a long, savory look before stretching out his hand towards her. She took his hand, and he guided her up to him underneath the water's spray.

"You are so very lovely, Anita," he breathed, nuzzling her forehead as he wrapped his arms around her. He lifted her up effortlessly and held her against his chest, then sank his mouth down on hers in a soft, sultry kiss.

Anita wrapped her legs around his waist, encircling his neck with her hands to steady herself. "God, I missed you," she said and kissed him back, hard. "Don't run away anymore, do you understand?"

"But cherie," Asher whispered, pressing her back against the warm tiled wall. "It is so very nice to come home again." He lowered his head and traced the bridge of her nose with his tongue, catching the stream of water running down the middle of her face, then lapped it off her brow, and kissed it from her eyes.

Anita pushed her hips against him anxiously and delved her fingers into his long wet tresses. Asher continued covering her face with kisses until Anita was certain he hadn't missed one spot, then he dragged his lips down her neck and nibbled delicately at her throat. The man knew how to use his mouth to his advantage, and he was slowly, but surely, driving her insane with desire. She could feel the hardening length of him along her thigh and it made her body fairly ache with need.

"Stop dilly dallying around already," she growled in his ear, then bit it. "You're dealing with a woman on the edge here."

Asher laughed lightly and stopped kissing her long enough to adjust her position against the wall and ease himself into her. Once he was completely inside her, his mouth captured hers again in a deep, succulent kiss. He ground his hips against her once, making her moan loudly down his throat.

"Ah, your body is ambrosia, ma cherie," Asher gasped and thrust into her again. "I could never leave you for long. Your passion calls to me. It makes you my own."

Closing her eyes, Anita buried her face against his shoulder and clamped her teeth down on his wet skin as the electrical impulses in her brain began shorting out with lust. Water ran around her lips and skimmed the outline of their joined bodies with a hot, tickling sensation. She wrapped her arm tightly around his neck and let her free hand slither down his back, reveling in the rippling movement of the finely toned muscles beneath her palm.

How could Jean-Claude not want this? Anita thought to herself, feeling Asher's body quiver with pleasure as he pressed his hips against her. Asher was so damned sexy, and he was so very, very...good.

"I wonder if HE is feeling this," Asher said suddenly, surprising Anita. She knew who he was referring to.

"I'm sure he can...through me," she panted in reply, knowing their marks were wide open now. She opened her eyes and drew her head back far enough to look into Asher's face.

"I think he knew you and I would make love tonight," Anita continued. "You know he feeds off lust, and is empowered whenever I have sex, so he doesn't discourage me too often, even though he does like to pick and choose exactly who I have sex with." She suddenly noticed Asher had stopped moving. "What's wrong?"

The vampire shook his head forcefully, sending droplets of water flying off the ends of his hair. "I don't understand it. He'll indulge in me through you, but not directly. I've almost a mind to walk away right now and leave him frustrated," Asher muttered. "It's not fair."

"But don't you see, it's the one way he can experience your passion without offending me."

"Mmm. Perhaps he's not as repulsed by the idea as I first believed him to be," Asher replied thoughtfully.

Asher's choice of words made Anita recall the first time she'd made love to Jean-Claude. Minutes before she was pushing him away. Minutes later, she was all over him.

"Of course he's not!" she proclaimed. "More than once, I've caught him watching your ass when you walk away from him."

Asher thought about that, then a small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. "Oh, I know sometimes I entice him. I just don't know how to approach him to convince him my intentions are true."

"You know, maybe Narcissus is right. I don't think aggression is the way to go this time around. He's too cool about things. But let me tell you, nothing piqued Jean-Claude's interest in me more than my resistance to him. He knew I loved him, and he knew I wanted him and played that card for all it was worth. So he kept after me constantly until it got to the point I was beginning to hate him. Finally, one night, he backed off when I really needed him to, and at that time, his love for me seemed so much more sincere. It was like he was saying, see how much I love you? I'm leaving you alone. I gave into him that night and well, now I buy lingerie to match the color of his eyes."

Asher grinned. "I always wondered how someone like him managed to snag someone like you."

"Oh, I didn't make it easy. But he didn't give up. He stuck by me no matter what."

Asher made a face. "But that worked with you, cherie. I don't believe the same tactics will work on him."

Anita shook her head. "You may be surprised. He's not the same man you knew hundreds of years ago, Asher. A lot of things have changed for him since then. He's his own master now. A sourdre de sang. Look, I'll talk to him tomorrow and explain everything. When I do, just give him a chance to get used to the idea. Let him know you're interested, but don't push him. Okay?"

Asher sighed heavily. "Okay."

Leaning forward, Anita kissed him tenderly. "Take heart, Asher. Remember, love conquers all."

"Do you really believe he loves me, ma cherie?" Asher asked, raising his brow dubiously.

Anita nodded. "Without a doubt. He just doesn't want to. I felt the same way about him at first. After all, I'm the dreaded executioner. There was no way in hell I was about to make it with a master vampire."

"Ah, and now you 'make it' with two of them," Asher pointed out and playfully pinched her nipple between his knuckles.

"Umm, speaking of, Mr. Master Vampire," Anita began. "I'm still waiting." She wiggled her hips encouragingly. "Asher, please. Don't stop," she protested. "It felt so good. You can't leave me literally hanging like this! It's cruel."

His mood brightening more, Asher grinned, and reached up to stroke back Anita's wet bangs from her forehead.

"Not to worry, cherie," he cooed at her, teasing her mouth with soft brushes of his lips. "It was just a thought. I'm too much of a gentleman to leave a lady unfulfilled." He kissed her then, slipping his tongue between her teeth, and entwining it with hers. With his hands on Anita's waist, the vampire began rocking his body once more, flexing his hips, and alternately bumping and rubbing himself against her.

Anita dragged her heels over his butt and groaned happily, leaning against Asher's body once more. In this particular position, with her weight supported mainly on Asher's loins, Anita couldn't exactly move with him so she focused on caressing him instead. She trailed kisses across his chest, up his neck, and over his perfectly chiseled jaw line, running her hands over his well-muscled arms, while squeezing him with her thighs.

Soon, all Anita could do was cling tightly to him as he ground himself faster and harder into her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in the waves of liquid gold falling over his shoulders and twisting her fingers in the thick locks spilling down his back.

Asher came first, his entire body tensing, then shuddering in release as he groaned deeply in her ear. He kept thrusting into her until he tipped her over the edge and she climaxed almost violently, pinned crushingly against the wall of the shower stall and Asher's body the way she was. Throwing her head back, she smacked it soundly against the tile, adding stars to the lights already flashing behind her eyes.

"Ow, goddamnit!" Anita swore hotly as soon as she was capable of wrapping her mind around the simple motor function of speaking again. She rubbed the back of her head with her hand as Asher pulled her away from the wall and eased her down his torso to the floor.

He didn't seem concerned in the least. In fact he was laughing at her, and turned her around to examine the injury more closely.

"Move your hands so I can see," he told her.

"No, ow, don't touch it!" Anita commanded him, trying to pull away from him. "Stop laughing you son of a bitch, that hurt!"

Asher wrapped his arms around her shoulders, imprisoning her hands at her sides. He leaned forward and kissed her head tenderly, then moved his mouth lower and began nuzzling her ear.

"Please be more careful, cherie," he whispered and traced the curve of her ear with the tip of his tongue. "Jean-Claude would never forgive me if I return you to him even slightly damaged."

Anita leaned back and turned her head. "Well, this time, I think you should be the one against the wall." She grasped his arms and steered him around her, pushing him over to the tiled wall beneath the shower spray, then reached up and adjusted the position of its head so the water hit Asher mid-chest.

The vampire obligingly pressed his back to the wall, raising his brow with intrigue. "This should prove interesting," he pointed out, clueless as to what Anita had in mind.

Anita smiled lasciviously, and sunk to her knees in front of him, keeping her eyes fixed on his. "I hope it will prove more than just interesting," she declared seductively. "Let's see you keep from smacking your head into the wall."

Asher's chuckle morphed into a throaty groan as Anita took him in her mouth. He reached down and cradled her head in his hands as her small warm hands roved his abdomen, her fingertips tracing the tracks of his scars on one side while the other hand skimmed the smoothly defined muscles on the other.

"Oh, ma cherie, you are too good to me," the vampire exclaimed breathily. A thought occurred to him, and he suddenly flashed a rather toothy smile, closed his eyes, and whispered, "Eat your heart out, Jean-Claude."


Anita's bedroom had been modified slightly to accommodate Jean-Claude's presence should he ever get caught there too close to dawn to make it back to the Circus of the Damned safely. Her windows were boarded up both inside and out and heavy dark draperies covered the blackened boards making the room pitch black, morning, noon, and night. But whenever Anita entertained Jean-Claude at her house, he was always careful to leave her well before sunrise, knowing she was not exactly thrilled with the idea of waking up next to a corpse, no matter who he was.

For some reason, Anita was thinking it wasn't so bad waking up curled around Asher, even though his beautiful, luscious body was now very still and very cold to the touch. Anita reached over and turned on the small bedside lamp, to see what time it was, then settled back into the bed with a contented sigh.

She still felt as if she was basking in the afterglow of Asher's lovemaking. They had stayed in the shower for over and hour and when the hot water had started to run out, they had washed each other off, and had then retreated into the bedroom where they had spent the remainder of the night getting all messed up again.

Smiling drowsily in recollection, Anita studied the vampire beside her with an appreciative eye. Lying on his side, Asher looked as if he was only sleeping, and even so, he looked spectacular. His hair was dry now, but wildly tousled and spilled over the pillows beneath his head in gleaming golden waves. One arm was folded under his head, the other was draped across his stomach turning his large, elegant hand in such a way it appeared to be holding out an offering of some kind. Anita leaned closer and peered into his face, noting the way his long lashes fringed his tightly closed eyes and the way his full, curvy lips were parted ever so slightly as if he were about to bestow a soft and tender kiss on some lucky recipient.

With a wistful sigh, Anita rolled away from Asher and was surprised to roll right into Nathaniel, who was dozing on the other side of her. He must have come in sometime after dawn, and after Anita had fallen asleep. He was so used to sleeping with Anita, he must not have even cared that Asher was with her.

The wereleopard stirred and opened his violet eyes to peer into Anita's face. He offered her a slow, sexy smile and leaned towards her to press a gentle kiss on her forehead.

"Good morning, Anita," he whispered, unnecessarily.

"It's not morning, it's nearly half past four in the afternoon," Anita corrected him in a normal voice level.

Nathaniel raised his head slightly to peer over Anita's shoulder at the "slumbering" vampire.

"Asher," he commented, his expression clearly exhibiting his surprise.

Anita grinned. "Yep."

"Good for you," Nathaniel teased.

"Say, I don't think I'm going to be needing you tonight," Anita began, switching gears. "I don't suppose you'd be interested in feeding him when he wakes up, would you?  See to his needs while I take a shower and get dressed. We're supposed to go talk to Jean-Claude tonight."

The wereleopard nodded readily. "I'd love to," Nathaniel told her. "I adore Asher. In fact, I'll stay right here until he wakes. I could go for a few more hours of shut-eye anyway, if you don't mind."

Anita noticed Nathaniel was back to whispering again. She smiled. "That'd be super," she told him, whispering back. "Now be quiet so you don't wake him."

Nathaniel grinned and snuggled back under the covers. Anita kissed his cheek and slid off the bed, reaching for her robe as she did. She pulled it on and belted it, peering over her shoulder at her lover and her pomme de sang one last time before leaving the room.


After seeing Damian off to work, Anita looked out the window at the already dark sky and took another sip of coffee. Between daylight savings time and the encroaching winter months just ahead, the days were getting shorter and shorter, but that was fine with her.

"I might as well be a vampire," she grumbled to herself, thinking on the screwy way her system functioned anymore.

She was always wider awake at night now, always more alert, faster and stronger, it seemed, than during the day. Anymore, trying to exist during the day was a real chore.

Had to be Jean-Claude's influence somehow, Anita mused. Maybe through his mark on her. It had changed way more about her than what he had initially disclosed. If she had a dime for everytime he began a sentence with, oh, by the way...or better yet, ma petite, I had no idea...she'd be rolling in the dough.

"And speak of the devil," Anita pronounced, spying a black stretch limousine pulling up to the curb in front of her house. Her eyes widened and she swore under her breath as Jean-Claude stepped out of the back of the car and strode towards her door.

She hadn't even had the time to shower and get dressed yet. Damn him! She was sure her hair was a disaster, and she smelled of sweat and sex and yesterday's coffee grounds, which she had accidentally spilled onto her robe. Asher wasn't even up yet, or at least she didn't think he was. No one had come shuffling out of the bedroom yet. Then, even if he was awake, he was feeding.

Jean-Claude rapped lightly on the front door. Anita stared at it, debating whether to just answer it, or make a mad dash for the bathroom. Finally, after he had knocked a few more times, Anita calmly set her coffee cup down and went to the door, throwing it open and stepping aside.

Looking and moving like a shadow across her threshold, Jean-Claude glided into Anita's living room in a swirl of black. The long waistcoat he was wearing was black, his pants were black, his vest, and even his lacy shirt was black. He was dressed rather formally, but for an occasion from the past. He looked like he had just stepped off a period piece movie set.

"Bonsoir, ma petite," Jean-Claude greeted, turning on his heel to face Anita. "Where is he?"

Shaking her head and stepping towards him, Anita answered him with a question of her own.

"What are you doing here, Jean-Claude?"

His beautiful face was a perfect portrait of passivity, but Anita could feel the tempest of power storming around him and knew he was royally pissed about something. He raised his chin slightly and stood before Anita tall and straight, and entirely unyielding.

"Why, I've come to collect Asher from you," he said, a little too evenly. "Let me ask you again, where is he?"

Anita held up her hand. "Now, just hold on a minute," she began. "I told you we'd come to the Circus tonight to talk things over. Why are you jumping the gun and showing up at my doorstep before I've even had a chance to brush my teeth?"

Jean-Claude slowly looked Anita up and down as if really seeing her for the first time. He frowned ever so slightly and put his hands on his black clad hips.

"My apologies, ma petite," he offered. "I did not intend to intrude upon your privacy." He glanced around the room and gestured at a chair. "May I sit down? I'll be happy to wait until you feel you've made yourself suitably presentable. Or we can make this short and sweet if you only send Asher to me. Then we will be away and 'out of your hair'." He smiled, but it was a forced, and rather condescending gesture.

Now Anita was getting pissed. "Oh, you want me to just drag Asher out of my bed and hand him over to you in the mood you're in? Not bloody likely."

Jean-Claude's eyes flicked towards Anita's bedroom, but he quickly adopted the most innocent expression. "Mood? I am in no 'mood', ma petite. You are mistaken," the vampire said quietly.

"Mistaken, my ass," Anita rumbled and all but jumped in front of him, obstructing the path to the bedroom. "Just chill, okay. He's probably feeding. I left Nathaniel in there with him." She paused and gestured at the sofa. "Sit down."

Jean-Claude inclined his head at her graciously and sat down in the middle of the sofa, crossing his legs and stretching his arms out along the back of the cushions, arranging himself to appear perfectly at ease. He looked up at Anita and smiled again, but it gave Anita chills.

"You can cut the bullshit, Jean-Claude," she said sharply. "You're fit to be tied and I want to know why."

Jean-Claude fixed his eyes on hers, his face losing all expression once more. "I am here to speak with Asher. That is all. I am anxious to resolve this...misunderstanding." He glanced in the direction of Anita's bedroom once more. "After all, we did have an 'understanding' between us."

A light of realization dawned in Anita's eyes. She stared back at Jean-Claude for a long time, unable to move or say anything. Finally, he looked away from her, releasing her in a sense. Anita went to him and sat down beside him.

"Oh, Jean-Claude, please don't be jealous," she whispered, tentatively reaching out to touch his hair.

Jean-Claude grasped her hand and drew her closer. Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he leaned forward, and buried his face in the crook of her neck, inhaling deeply.

"Your skin bears his scent," he breathed into her ear then unexpectedly kissed her, roughly prying her lips apart with his jaw and filling her mouth with his tongue. Before Anita could protest, he pulled away from her and sat back abruptly. "You taste like him too."

Anita edged to the end of the sofa, eyeing him warily. "Yeah, well, the kind of sex we had last night was that old-fashioned sweaty, sticky, slippery kind. But since when does that put you off? He's made love to me before. He's made love to me in your bed while you made love to me too. Don't act like you just realized Asher and I are lovers. And don't make it sound like we're conspiring against you."

Jean-Claude's dark blue eyes flashed. "He is my lover as well. Perhaps not physically, but supernaturally. I thought it would be enough, but he wants something more tangible between us. Something, I told you, I am unwilling to offer him. But by spurning him, I sent him fleeing back into the arms of the only other lover he's had beside you these past few years. The only lover besides you willing to give him the kind of sex he craves with me. It is starting already. Asher only went to Narcissus to hurt and punish me. Just like before."

Anita shook her head. "He admitted as much," she agreed. "But nothing happened between them. They both gave me their word."

Looking up, a shadow of surprise passed over the vampire's face. "Without a doubt, that is good to know, however, he now resides with you, and you as well, give him what I cannot. It appears as though our menage a trois is no more." He paused and closed his eyes momentarily, shaking his head. "'Three' seems to be a very unlucky number for me."

Anita sighed. "Oh stop. You know very well Asher and I have no intention of carrying on without you."

With a slightly dubious expression, Jean-Claude raised his brow. "Non? You were to bring him back to me tonight, but I know he would have kept you here--enticed you to linger with him in bed. If I had not come here, you would be with him now, and the night would have spent itself out, without either of you even sparing a thought for me."

Outraged, Anita shot to her feet, shaking her head vehemently. "Uh uh, he's not staying here! Don't you worry! And don't you go accusing me of betraying you with him! Yeah, last night was hot, but damn it all, Jean-Claude, give me a little more credit than that!"

The vampire rose to his feet as well. "I accuse you of nothing!" he countered. "I am merely relaying the conclusions I have come to, based on the circumstances being what they are, as I know them."

"Funny, sounds to me like you don't want him to stop chasing you, even though you say you do," Anita commented. "A week ago, you were ready to banish him. Well, it's true what they say, you always want what you can't have. And now you're all bent out of shape because he spent one night with me. You're afraid he might think I'm such a good fuck, he won't bother with you anymore!"

Jean-Claude winced visibly. "Must you be so crude?"

Anita rolled her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. "All right. Let's just both calm down before we start saying things we're going to regret later."

"Fine," the vampire said curtly.

Dragging her hand through her hair, Anita found she suddenly did not know what to say next. She spied her coffee cup sitting forlornly on the side table and picked it up.

"I'll be right back," she murmured and headed into the kitchen for a reprieve. She dumped the cold remains of her cup into the sink and rinsed it, then turned to the coffee maker and poured out a fresh cup. She took one sip and sighed heavily, closing her eyes in a caffeinated bliss.

A sudden commotion coming from down the hall made them snap back open and caused her heart to skip a beat. Slamming the cup down on the countertop, Anita knowingly turned and darted towards the bedroom.

She almost crashed into Jean-Claude as he stood in the doorway, facing into the room. Shoving him aside, she ducked in and stopped short, her eyes growing wide.

"You see, ma petite," Jean-Claude began quietly, his voice filling the now still room. "Why would he come back to me when he can partake of such bounty here?"

Anita glanced back at him over her shoulder and stalked towards the bed where Asher and Nathaniel lay entwined together in a motionless heap. Both were breathing rather erratically, and despite the sheets which covered the lower half of their bodies, it was more than evident what they had been doing--what Jean-Claude's untimely entrance had apparently interrupted.

Glaring heatedly at Nathaniel, Anita walked right up to the head of the bed and seized a handful of the wereleopard's long hair, yanking his head back.

"I told you to feed him, not seduce him!"

"You said to see to his needs," the wereleopard countered.  "I was only doing what you asked."

"Anita, calm down," Asher murmured, looking past her to Jean-Claude. He disentangled himself from the shapeshifter and rolled to the side of the bed. "It was a misunderstanding, that is all.  Please, forgive me.  I got a little carried away.  It is not every night I wake up in the arms of such ethereal loveliness. What did you expect? I was not about to...mmm, how do they say it? Look a gift horse in the mouth?"

Anita all but dragged Nathaniel off the bed. "Why don't you go jump in the shower?" she suggested.

Nathaniel nodded readily, his eyes drifting from hers to Jean-Claude's to Asher's. "I think I will," he stated and made a hasty exit into the bathroom.

Jean-Claude suddenly swept into the room, glaring at the vampire on the bed. "You profess to love me," he began seethingly. "You claim I have once again captured your heart and you simply cannot grasp why I do not believe you." He paused and gestured in the direction Nathaniel had gone. "Because you do things like this. You knew very well I was here. Just on the other side of that door, yet you chose not to greet me."

Looking somewhat chagrined, Asher sat up, drawing his knees to his chest and encircling them with his arms. "I told you, the young leopard's charm proved to be most distracting. I simply could not help myself when he started coming on to me."

Jean-Claude crossed his arms over his chest. "And he was willing. Like Narcissus was willing, and Anita. You've done well for yourself, mon ami. I can understand why you would rather not come back to me. After all, what have I to offer you?"

Asher locked his eyes on Jean-Claude's and threw off the sheets. He slid off the bed and approached him.

"I know what you are thinking, and you are wrong," Asher began softly. "You have more to offer than you know. That is why I want to come back to you. You cannot believe I would prefer the pleasures of the flesh over the possession of my true love's heart." He leaned towards Jean-Claude and reached up to run the back of his hand down the side of his face.

Jean-Claude blinked up at him with wide, uncertain eyes.

"Don't," he breathed, glancing nervously towards Anita, and then quickly turned his face away from Asher's trespassing hand.

Asher slipped his fingers deep into the other vampire's hair and tilted his head back, raising Jean-Claude's face to him once more.

"Give me time. I will earn your trust again," Asher whispered, turning his head and lowering his face over Jean-Claude's. "I will make you believe, and I will have your heart once more, cheri. But for now, kiss me. Just because we can, and just because I love you." Asher leaned forward and touched his lips to Jean-Claude's.

Jean-Claude seemed too shocked at first to move, then he slapped his hands flat against Asher's chest and shoved him hard enough to send him slamming into a chest of drawers.

Flashes of emotions flickered across Asher's face, but confusion seemed to overshadow them all. He glanced at Anita.

"I expected some reluctance, maybe a little resistance to the idea, but not outright violence. What did he say to you about this when you told him?"

Bristling at Asher's audacity, Jean-Claude turned to face Anita as well.

She stood beside the bed, shaking her head, and covering her eyes with her hand as if this whole awkward episode was too much to bear witness to. In the ensuing stillness, she looked up, her wide eyes fixed on Asher. Then, sensing Jean-Claude's eyes on her, Anita glanced over at him, and sighed heavily. Determinedly, she re-focused her attention back on Asher and pushed herself away from the headboard, stepping towards him.

"Ah, I hate to break this to you, but I haven't exactly had the chance to tell him yet," Anita began in a low voice.

Asher stared back at her with an incredulous look. "Well, thank you for letting me just make a complete fool of myself."

"I told you to play it cool," Anita grumbled. "Even if I had gotten the chance to tell him, you shouldn't have tried to kiss him!"

"Well, perhaps if you had told him like you were supposed to, he would have let me kiss him!" Asher shot back. "If you don't mind my asking, what have you been doing out there with him all this time?"

Anita narrowed her eyes. "Trying to calm him down," she growled. "He came here acting like the proverbial cuckold husband! Don't imply you were merely biding your time in here so I could break it to him gently."

"Tell me what?" Jean-Claude rumbled.

"I was biding my time," Asher answered Anita, lowering his voice. "I wanted to give you the chance to explain your decision to him before we saw each other. But I was getting restless waiting for you, and your little cat wanted to play." He noticed the look of contempt Anita was giving him. "He thought you wanted him to keep me entertained and when he told me as much, I wasn't about to say no.  Such invitations are few and far between for me these days.  You should have been more careful with your instructions to him.  And what did you expect me to do, really? I am a man, after all."

"You're a lech," Anita said through her teeth. "Couldn't you have shown a little more self-control? Now is not a good time for you to get promiscuous, Asher. We're not off to a very good start here!"

Asher growled. "Oh, forgive me. I forgot I'm talking to Saint Therese de Lisieux here."

"What are you talking about?" Jean-Claude said, raising his voice enough to show he was anything but pleased at the moment and he would not stand to be ignored another second.

Asher and Anita both turned to face him.

Anita gestured at the bed. "Maybe you had better sit down for this," she offered.

Keeping his eyes locked on hers, Jean-Claude moved to the foot of the bed and slowly sat down.

Anita frowned. "I think you may already have an idea of what's going on since Asher went and jumped the gun."

"Only because I believed she had already told you," Asher defended himself. "I thought when you came in here, it was because you knew."

Jean-Claude shook his head. "I have no idea what any of this is about, but let me tell you something. I am not particularly happy with either one of you at the moment, and the fact you have obviously conspired to something concerning me, behind my back, will not fair well for the two of you."

Anita and Asher exchanged glances. Asher slunk to the other side of the room, retrieved the tattered gray sweat pants he had been wearing the night before and pulled them on. Anita faced Jean-Claude again and reached down to take his hand in both of hers.

"Don't be mad," she began, entreatingly. "I had actually been considering this for awhile. The other night--the night Asher left, you broke down and said some things to me that really hit home. But even before that, just watching you two together--the obvious affection you have for one another. It kind of thawed out my heart and pushed away the reservations I had been hoarding when it came to letting you and Asher be lovers again." She paused momentarily and licked her suddenly very dry lips, studying Jean-Claude's expression closely. "So I decided to back off. Give you back to Asher and let come what may."

Jean-Claude's hand tightened around Anita's almost imperceptibly. His face was perfectly blank, but his eyes held a glimmer of full blown panic. His voice when he spoke was soft and even.

"Ma petite," he breathed, then suddenly seemed as if he could not find any more words and visibly struggled for awhile. Finally, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath and started over. "Ma petite, does this mean...you are leaving me?"

"Oh!" Anita exclaimed with a start, realizing her mistake. "No, no, no! I'm not leaving you!" She raised his hand and covered it with kisses, squeezing it hard. "I love you, Jean-Claude! What I'm trying to say is this. I want you to be with Asher again. I'm giving you my blessings. I gave him my blessings. I love you both and I want you to be happy." Anita rubbed his knuckles against her cheek. "He wants to love you, Jean-Claude. He wants to express his love for you. Now you're free to accept that expression and love him in return."

Jean-Claude slowly turned his eyes on Asher who was standing on the far side of the room in a corner, his arms crossed over his chest as if he were cold. His eyes were fixed on the floor and his long hair had spilled forward, obstructing the ravaged half of his face as it had been trained to do over the past three centuries. Jean-Claude's eyes narrowed as he drew them back to Anita's face. Rising to his feet, he pulled his hand from hers.

"I was happy," he rumbled. "I was more than content with the status quo. Our little menage a trois works well the way it is. Everyone is loved, everyone is satisfied, and more importantly, it keeps everyone safe."

Anita frowned. "Asher wasn't satisfied," she pointed out.

"And when is Asher ever satisfied with anything?" Jean-Claude hissed. "Did either of you even think to consult me before reaching this monumental decision? After all, I am at its very core."

Putting her hands on her hips, Anita stared back at Jean-Claude with unconcealed irritation. "I consulted myself! It was my decision to make."

Jean-Claude gestured at Asher, flinging out his hand in his direction. "So you simply unleash him on me and expect me to surrender myself to him just like that? How could you do this to me after I confided in you? I don't care if he says he loves me. I don't want to love him! I will not...lower myself to that degree again."

Asher's head snapped up. His pale blue eyes sparked with undisclosed pain and a simmering fury. Crossing the room to the door in three long strides, he passed Jean-Claude, brusquely colliding with his shoulder as he did.

"Bastard," Asher growled at him and continued out of the bedroom.

Anita started after him, calling his name, but stopped and faced Jean-Claude again.

"You son of a bitch," she seethed, hauling her fist back and driving it squarely into the vampire's jaw.

The force behind the unexpected blow threw Jean-Claude far enough off balance that he crumpled to the floor against the foot of the bed. The side of his face showed an angry red imprint which clearly stung as he covered it with his hand in an attempt to rub away the pain. He gaped up at Anita in shock and dismay.

"Fuck you!" she spat and turned away from him on her heel to go after Asher.

Quickly, Jean-Claude pulled himself to his feet and caught her before she had reached the door.

"No, Anita! Let me," he ordered, dragging her back into the room and over to the bed. "You stay here."

Anita sunk down on the side of the bed and nodded numbly, watching Jean-Claude go.


Emerging from the bedroom, Jean-Claude was surprised to find Asher sitting on Anita's sofa, curled up on the far end, his head buried in his hands. He looked up as Jean-Claude approached him, but turned his face away again, and pressed his body deeper into the couch cushions.


"I promised Anita I would not run away again," he explained quietly.

Jean-Claude stepped closer to him and cleared his throat. "I'm glad."

Asher glanced up at him. "For her sake?"

"No," the other vampire replied softly. "For mine. I worry about you when you're not with me. You are mine to protect. Mine to care for. Should anything happen to you, I would not forgive myself."

Asher smiled, but the look on his face showed he was anything but amused. "Ah, so you reserve the right to hurt me exclusively."

Jean-Claude bowed his head and sighed. He gestured limply at the space on the sofa beside Asher. "May I sit down?"

Asher consented with a subtle inclination of his head.

Easing himself down on the sofa, Jean-Claude scooted as close to Asher as he could without actually touching him. Asher was still angled away from him and refused to look into Jean-Claude's eyes.

"Asher, please turn around," he pleaded softly. "Please look at me."

Asher shook his head. "I'd really rather not, if it's all the same to you."

"Are you that angry with me, you cannot even bear to look at me?"

"Non, it is not that," Asher replied, placing his hand on his scarred chest. "Sometimes just looking upon you makes my heart sorely ache. And you look so beautiful tonight, I thought to spare myself the pain."

"But I wish to apologize," Jean-Claude continued, leaning against the other vampire. "What I said was thoughtless and cruel. I did not mean it the way it must have sounded to you." He tentatively reached out and trailed his fingers down Asher's upper arm.

Asher tensed some and fixed his eyes on Jean-Claude's hand.

"Do not apologize, mon ami," the blonde vampire murmured. "It is simply how you feel and believe me, of all people, I know there are some feelings which just cannot be helped."

Jean-Claude squeezed Asher's shoulder and pressed his chest against Asher's back. "It is loving you that I cannot help," he breathed into Asher's ear. "I keep telling myself I'd be a fool to love you again. It would jeopardize everything I am and everything I have. I am sorry." He nuzzled the hair falling over the nape of Asher's neck. "Please do not pursue me. It is difficult enough for me as it is. I love you...but I cannot do this." He dragged his mouth up the side of Asher's face, sliding his arm across the other vampire's bare chest. "I...cannot."

Asher closed his eyes and leaned back against Jean-Claude's body, passing his hand over the velvet sleeve of his coat. The breath had grown still inside him even though his heart was pounding heavily in his chest. Hesitantly, he turned his head, seeking Jean-Claude's straying mouth.

Jean-Claude's lips all but fell over his and the kiss that resulted from that accidental collision was passionate and devouring. Asher turned around in Jean-Claude's arms and pulled him closer, reveling in the taste of his mouth and the sweet sensation of his soft, full lips. Asher could not help but moan deeply.

"Oops!" Anita suddenly exclaimed from across the room.

The two vampires jerked apart.

"I'm sorry!" Anita went on hurriedly, squeezing her eyes shut. "It was just so quiet, I came out to make sure you two hadn't killed each other."

Jean-Claude shook his head and rose to his feet. "It is quite all right, ma petite," he softly reassured her. "I was just about to leave."

Opening her eyes, Anita looked from Jean-Claude to Asher then back up at Jean-Claude. "Leave?"

"Oui," he went on, tugging at his sleeves and smoothing out the wrinkles in his coat. "I have caused enough damage to my relationships for one night. I have hurt, angered, and confused even myself." He pulled himself up to his full height, squared his shoulders and took a deep, cleansing breath. "Therefore, I bid you both, adieu."

Anita looked at Asher, who was slumped against the sofa cushions, looking miserable and consumed.

"Aren't you going with him?"

Asher didn't reply. He merely shook his head.

Discouraged, Anita sighed and started after Jean-Claude, who was already on his way to the door. "I'll call you later," she offered.

Jean-Claude paused just before opening the door and turned to face her. "I'd rather you didn't," he replied, unhappily. "So please, do not feel obligated to do so."

The mark on his face was bruising now and looked a little swollen and sore. Anita winced as she leaned towards him to examine the bruise more closely. She reached up to touch it, but Jean-Claude tightly grasped hold of her wrist and stopped her, shaking his head in warning.

"I should know by now how very rash and impulsive you can be when you feel an injustice has been done. Perhaps I truly deserved your remonstration this time, but do not think I will always tolerate these little outbursts of yours."

"Look, I'm sorry I lost it like that, okay?" she tried to apologize. "If it is any consolation, my hand hurts like hell now."

Jean-Claude turned his eyes on the hand he held motionless in the air and carefully examined Anita's split knuckles. He frowned deeply and released her hand with an exasperated sigh.

"Perhaps next time you could try not to hit me quite so hard."

"I'll try," Anita agreed. "And maybe next time you could try not to piss me off so much."

"I'll try," Jean-Claude answered, a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I accept your apology. Please accept mine." His eyes drifted towards Asher. "Take care of him for me, ma petite." He bent towards her and kissed her lightly, then turned towards the door and pulled it open.

"Bye," Anita murmured and watched him make his way down her driveway to the waiting limousine. She closed the door softly and turned around to face Asher. "I guess it's good to know someone else has relationship problems too."

Asher blinked up at her. "I really blew it, didn't I? You were right. I should have listened to you about him."

Putting her hands on her hips, Anita stalked over to the vampire on her sofa. "Oh, I don't know. You two looked like you were working things out."

"Non, cherie," Asher mumbled. "I achieved nothing tonight. He wants me, but only as his friend. He loves me, but like a brother."

Shaking her head, Anita knelt in front of Asher and cuddled up to him, draping her upper body over his lap.

"After kissing you like that? How can you say that about him? He wants you, Asher, and not as a brother. Even from where I was standing, that kiss was enough to make my toes curl."

Asher frowned. "That's just the way his kisses are." He reached down and ran his hand over Anita's hair. "It was a very pleasurable kiss, but he seemed so very sad, as if it hurt him to kiss me like that."

Anita looked up at him. "I think he just slipped up," she told him. "When you're that attracted to somebody, your resistance can only go so far. Remind me to tell you about our little trip to Branson sometime." She sighed heavily, her mood growing somber. "He already knows he's in love with you, even though he's made it clear to both of us he doesn't want to be. He says it is because he doesn't trust you, but I think it is because he doesn't trust himself."

The vampire's pale blue eyes dimmed with sorrow. He covered them momentarily with his hand, then dragged his fingers through his hair, pushing it off his face.

"I can't really blame him for not trusting me now. Once upon a time, he loved me so much, he gave himself over to me completely. He sought shelter in my arms when the cruelty of world overwhelmed him. Then..." Asher closed his eyes and licked his lips. "I became a part of that cruel world, and it left him no reprieve. You know the story. And the rest is history."

Soothingly, Anita reached up and stroked Asher's face. He cleared his throat and gently pushed her aside, rising to his feet.

"Where are you going?" she whispered, almost reverently respecting the solemnity of the moment.

Asher gestured towards the front door. "Outside. To have a cigarette."

Anita climbed to her feet. There was something in the tone of his voice which told her what he really wanted was to be alone for a little while. "Well, put something a little warmer on, will you? It's got to be thirty degrees out there."

Glancing over his shoulder at her, Asher made a face, but abruptly altered the direction he'd been heading before reaching the front door.

"Oh, oui, ma ma."

Anita tried to smile. "Look, don't give me any trouble. I promised Jean-Claude I would take care of you," she said softly.

Leaning towards her, Asher kissed her cheek and then continued on to the bedroom. "Don't worry. I will be fine, cherie. I'm not going away again. I'm just going to take a small walk and do some thinking."

"Would you like some company? It will only take me a minute to get dressed," Anita offered, not entirely trusting him and wondering what he was up to.

"Non, Anita. Please. I would rather be alone, if you don't mind."

Anita pulled her robe tighter around herself and sighed heavily.

"Asher, I know you're hurting right now," she said. "But don't give up on him. Show him there's no reason to be afraid. Let him know your love is true. He'll come around. I'm sure."

The vampire had already disappeared into the dark bedroom and even though Anita was certain he had heard her, he didn't bother to reply.


Jean-Claude strode into his living room beneath The Circus of the Damned and stopped short upon seeing the tall, blonde vampire standing on the far side of the room beside the fireplace.

"Asher," he greeted rather breathlessly. "Jason told me you were here. I almost did not believe him. I hadn't expected to see you again tonight."

Asher turned away from the painting he'd been staring at to face Jean-Claude. "You moved the Cupid and Psyche," he noted. "Thank you. It is good to have Julianna's portrait once more gracing this room."

"Yes," Jean-Claude agreed quietly. He took a hesitant step forward. "Was there something you wanted? Something I can do for you?"

Asher chuckled humorlessly at the unintentional implications behind Jean-Claude's phrasing. "Non, mon ami. I came here tonight to do something for you."

Jean-Claude looked as if he was almost afraid to ask. His face was in perfect repose, but Asher noticed the way he fidgeted nervously with his long sleeves.

"And that would be?"

Sighing, the blonde vampire leaned against the fireplace mantle and tried to look casual.

"I've been thinking," he began quietly. "And I've reached a decision. Now I want to put your mind at ease."

Jean-Claude did not reply. He blinked back at his friend slowly, then grew very still.

Asher continued, bowing his head. "I want us back the way we were."

Tensing visibly, Jean-Claude's eyes drifted to the painting. "I know," he said, his voice barely audible. "But it can never be like that again. Too much has happened since then. Too much has changed."

Holding up his hand to stop him, Asher shook his head. "Non, Jean-Claude. I'm not talking about you, me, and Julianna. I'm talking about you, me, and Anita. Though you are right. What's passed has passed. I'll never have again what I had with her--what I had with you. I understand that now."

Jean-Claude took another step forward. "What are you saying?"

Looking up, Asher frowned. "I am going to comply with your wishes. I won't pursue the kind of love from you you are unwilling to give. I will simply accept what I have and be happy with that. After all, we are the best of friends and I know you love me dearly as such. And Anita loves me, the way a woman loves a man." He paused and gnawed his lower lip unhappily. "At one time, that was more love than I ever hoped to have again."

"But you are still in love with me," Jean-Claude pointed out, needlessly. "You still desire me."

Asher shrugged slightly. "Yes, but if we simply continue the way we have been, it will be no different than before. I do believe time will temper my infatuation, and the strong feelings I have for you now will eventually wane. Love is like that, mon cheri. It needs to be nurtured to survive. It needs expression and reciprocation. Without it, love dies. You should know that. I taught you as much."

Jean-Claude moved to sit down on the sofa in the middle of the room. For a long time, he said nothing and seemed to merely study the nap of the carpet in front of him. Asher turned away from him again and fixed his eyes on the painting once more.

Finally, Jean-Claude spoke. "This is all tres galant, mon ami, and you make it all sound so effortless. But do you honestly believe you will be able to come back into my house, not to mention, my bed, and not be overwhelmed by it all?"

Not bothering to turn around, Asher nodded. "I love you. That is what enables me to do this for you. It is because I love you, I am letting you go."

Jean-Claude sighed heavily. "Then let me do something for you," he said, his deep, melodious voice filling the stillness of the living room.

Intrigued, Asher turned around to look at him. Jean-Claude looked up at Asher as well.

"Oh? What?"

Jean-Claude hesitated for just a moment, then he rose to his feet and walked over to where Asher stood.

"I cannot promise you my love, but I can at least fulfill your desire."

Asher stared at him stunned. Then he laughed heartily and could not stop long enough to reply.

Jean-Claude glared back at him, clearly not understanding what it was he had said that Asher had found so funny. Finally, Asher spoke.

"How very generous of you, Jean," he said, breathlessly. "And so very like you."

Jean-Claude edged away from him. "What is that suppose to mean?" he hissed through his teeth.

His humor clearly gone, Asher reached out and seized a fistful of Jean-Claude's hair, twisting it tightly, and forcing him to look directly into his eyes.

"It means I think you're a liar and a whore." Disgusted, he released Jean-Claude with a shove, then turned away from him again. "Without a doubt, you have offered me a very pretty package, but with nothing inside. You are keeping the real prize out of my reach. You seek to appease me by merely letting me fondle the box. How vain is that?"

"Get out," Jean-Claude seethed.

Asher stayed where he was and continued gazing at the painting. "Could it be that our beloved little Anita's newfound liberality has sown in you a seed of temptation, mon ami? You've decided you want to sleep with me after all and put forth your desire to do so in the guise of a favor for poor, rejected me. This way you can...oh, how do the Americans put it?--have your cake and eat it too? You think when we have sex you can simply detach yourself from experiencing any kind of feeling, the way I know you have with others countless times before?" He paused and shook his head, turning slowly to face the other vampire once more. "Non, mon ami. I don't believe that is true. Not now. Not with me."

"Fine," Jean-Claude said evenly. "Your answer is no. We will leave it at that then." He pointed towards the door. "Now get out."

Asher raised his brow. "There is no need to pout, Jean-Claude," he went on. "I am sparing you. You know as well as I do, letting you make love to me at this point in time would only complicate things between us. Your emotions are flaying you as we speak."

"Don't make it sound as if you'd be doing me any kindness. I told you before, I do not want to love you. I will not let myself love you. My offer was to let you make love to me, not the other way around."

"I already make love to you," Asher growled. "When we are sheathed in Anita's body, you feel me through her. You come from my power just like she comes from my sex. I give you pleasure and you take it. You take it time and time again but you cannot bring yourself to give any back to me." He dragged his hand roughly through his already disheveled bangs, pushing them off his face in barely contained frustration. "I want you to make love to me, but I know it would only weaken the chains you have shackled around your heart. I came to you tonight to reassure you your heart will once again be safe. I will not tug at your locks anymore. I will be the friend you want me to be, but nothing else."

Jean-Claude stood staring back at Asher with an unreadable expression on his face. In the intensity of his anger however, his eyes had bled to a solid pool of darkest blue and the breath inside him billowed from his parted lips in an icy cloud.

"Go," he commanded in an ominous tone, his power rising around him like a winter storm. "I do not want you here tonight."

Sighing, Asher nodded and stepped forward. "I think I will. Like you, I find myself barely under control. You know, you're positively beautiful when you're angry...and as angry as you are now, cheri, you're fucking gorgeous."

He moved towards the door, but Jean-Claude suddenly appeared before him. He grabbed Asher's upper arms and stared up at him piercingly.

Asher planted his hands on Jean-Claude's waist and pulled him up against him. Acting on sheer impulse, he covered his mouth roughly, in a less than virtuous kiss, unleashing the intense passion he had been so desperately trying to hide. He expected Jean-Claude to resist him again, to fight him, and tear him apart with his power.

Instead, Jean-Claude slid his hands over Asher's shoulders, kissing him back with an equivalent fervency, and all but melting in the blonde vampire's arms. He buried his long fingers deeply in Asher's hair and locked him in his embrace. He steadily pushed him towards the bedroom as Asher began to tug at his clothes.

Jean-Claude pivoted around Asher and backed away from him, still moving towards the bedroom. He took hold of the collar of Asher's shirt and tore open the buttons, then yanked the garment off his shoulders and flung it aside.

Asher pulled off Jean-Claude's velvet coat and tugged the tails of his shirt out of his pants. Then Asher turned Jean-Claude around and crushed him to his chest, his hands roving the front of Jean-Claude's body as Asher's mouth dotted the side of his face with kisses. Asher untied Jean-Claude's ruffled collar and unceremoniously opened his lacy black shirt, tearing it beyond repair as he did.

"...Sorry," Asher whispered, letting the tattered ruins fall to the floor.

Jean-Claude flashed a smile at him, and it made Asher's already erratic heart skip a beat. Then Jean-Claude seized the waistband of Asher's sweat pants and pulled him after him into the bedroom.

The vampires undressed each other in earnest now, tearing fitfully at the remainder of each other's clothes in between bouts of protracted, passionate kisses and the occasional blatantly suggestive caress. Once naked, they collapsed in a tangled heap across the bed and kissed with wildly zealous desire.

"I'm going to regret this," Jean-Claude moaned as Asher dragged his mouth down the length of his body, nibbling and kissing a wet trail from his chest to his hips.

"Non, mon amour, no regrets," Asher whispered. "I promise. We have both had more than enough of them to fill the rest of our days." He paused and ran the tip of his tongue teasingly up Jean-Claude's erection before kissing and gnawing his way back towards his lover's mouth, making the vampire lying beneath him quiver in delight.

Jean-Claude encircled Asher's waist and kissed him hard, rubbing his hips against him. He released his power then, summoning it from every fiber of his being and drawing it from every source he had.

"Asher, I...I do love you," Jean-Claude said suddenly, his voice soft and thick with desire.

Asher smiled and stroked the downy black curls from the side of his face. "I know, mon cheri," he breathed and nuzzled his cheek. "I love you."

"I know," Jean-Claude replied with a quick smile, and pulled Asher down to him for another devouring kiss.

Asher groaned happily and absorbed Jean-Claude's power into him. He poured his own power over Jean-Claude and their combined powers rose in intensity and swirled about them, filling the bedroom with a fine supernatural mist.

With flaring passion, Asher turned Jean-Claude face down on the bed and plunged his fangs into his shoulder. He fed off him as he positioned his torso over his back and used his hand skillfully to ease the tension from his lover's body.

Asher readily recalled what to do to pleasure Jean-Claude, and apparently, not much had changed in the centuries they had spent apart. To his delight, Jean-Claude reciprocated with the same proficient skill and awareness.

What Asher had forgotten, was the absolute sensual sweetness of Jean-Claude's body and when he took him, his own body became ablaze with pleasure. That combined with the power flowing through him was almost overwhelming. For a moment he didn't dare move, certain if he did, he would come in seconds. He waited for his heightened senses to calm somewhat, and wrapped himself around Jean-Claude's back, dropping soft kisses in his hair.

Jean-Claude was leaning against him, pressing the backs of his thighs to Asher's legs. Feeling himself sufficiently under control, Asher rose up, wrapping his arm around Jean-Claude's slender waist to draw him up with him. He rocked forward and slowly pulled back, his mind once more seizing with ecstasy. Jean-Claude gasped and groaned as Asher growled and sighed. Settling quickly into a forceful, steady rhythm, Asher tightened his hold on Jean-Claude to keep him close to him as Jean-Claude spasmed intensely. It wasn't long before both vampires were in the grip of a simultaneous orgasm that wracked their bodies with such potent pleasure, they collapsed back onto the bed like two felled trees.

Out of sheer joy, Jean-Claude started to laugh first, then Asher joined him, feeling happier than he thought he would ever feel again. He hugged Jean-Claude and kissed him deeply, stroking his sweat-dampened hair and wrapping his leg possessively around his thighs.

"Mon cher," Asher breathed, leaning forward to kiss Jean-Claude again. "Our love has come full circle now. And now it is complete. Oh, Jean-Claude, how I've missed you."

Jean-Claude turned his head to gnaw Asher's neck. "It has been a very long time," he panted and scraped his teeth across the throbbing veins beneath Asher's skin. "I want to do it again. I want to devour you."

Asher raised his chin. "I am yours," he sighed and cradled Jean-Claude's head in his hands. "Take from me whatever you want. Just leave me enough blood to get it up again."

Jean-Claude smiled, baring his fangs, then sunk them deeply into Asher's neck. Again, Asher felt the misty swirl of Jean-Claude's cool power overtake him. He settled himself comfortably on his back, wrapped his arm around his lover's shoulders, and prepared himself to be consumed throughout the rest of the night.


Anita was beside herself with worry. Apparently, Asher's little walk hadn't been so little. He had completely disappeared, and hadn't come back before dawn. The only thing she could think of was that he had left again. Maybe this time it was for good.

Something strange was going on however. Just when she had decided to go out and look for Asher, her body was repeatedly overcome with tremors that were vaguely orgasmic, and forced her to simply stay home and pace the floor to await his return. They weren't intense orgasms by any means--more like shadows of gratifications she could not pinpoint. Even stranger, was the fact they didn't feel like her orgasms. They were not experienced the way she experienced them, but then it was hard to tell when all she had were fleeting glimpses.

Nevertheless, they still felt glorious. It had to be remnants of last night, Anita mused, and tried to recall ever feeling Asher's power at all. He had learned a hard lesson about using his power on her during sex, and had vowed never to do it again without her consent. Was it possible then that her body simply responded to Asher's superlative lovemaking in this way? But then, Jean-Claude's prowess in the bedroom was equivalent to say the least, but she never had reoccurring orgasms from the sex she had with him.

Luckily they had subsided just before sunrise. Now eight o'clock, Anita could barely keep her eyes open and silently thanked God it was Saturday and she didn't have to be at work by nine. Reluctantly, she dragged herself to bed. Pulling on a nightshirt, she closed the door behind her, then climbed into bed next to Nathaniel and curled up beneath the wereleopard's out-stretched arm. Despite her concern for Asher, she could not stave off sleep another second and soon succumbed to a restless dream.


Anita arrived at the Circus later than she would have liked. She hadn't planned on going there at all, but she hadn't been able to reach Jean-Claude by phone and Asher still hadn't turned up. She was starting to think something was seriously wrong.

On the stairs, she met Jason, obviously on his way out. She flung herself into his arms, babbling incoherently for the first few minutes about how she had caused more harm than good, how she should never get involved in other people's affairs, and why did she ever listen to his advice in the first place. To his credit, he held her and made little comforting noises as he steered her inside, placating her by simply agreeing to everything she said until he could get a word in edge-wise. Finally she ran out of regrets and turned to look at Jason expectantly.

The werewolf sighed. "Now explain to me again how my advice led you to all this doom and gloom," Jason began, clearly trying to lighten her mood.

"I guess I can't blame this entirely on you," she went on quietly, walking with him into Jean-Claude's spacious living room deep underground. "It was my idea actually, and I should know better than to propose anything to a man basking in the afterglow of some pretty zesty sex. They don't think rationally after that and have a tendency to agree to anything when they're so happy." She shot him an accusatory look and cleared her throat insinuatingly.

Jason grinned. "What can I say? It sounded like a good idea at the time." He leaned over and pressed a soft kiss on her cheek. "But you're right. I think I would agree to whatever your heart desired after having sex with you."

Anita eyed him warily. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

"Well...not really."

Anita growled in frustration. "I'm talking about Jean-Claude and Asher. I should have just left things the way they were and let them work it out. Now I've gone and screwed things up so bad, it may never be right again." She thumped herself soundly on the forehead with the palm of her hand. "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"

Jason grabbed her wrist. "Hang on a minute," he grumbled. "What's happened now? I thought things were progressing nicely."

Anita shook her head. "Things are falling apart. Going from bad to worse." She paused and looked around. "Where's Jean-Claude anyway? Isn't he here?"

"Yeah, somewhere," Jason told her. "Do you want me to go look for him?"

"No, you were on your way out, weren't you?" She gestured at his jacket and tugged at the scarf around his neck.

"Well, yeah, I was going to work."

Anita waved him on. "You go ahead. You don't want to be late. I'll find him, or he'll find me. I'm sure if he is here, he knows I'm around."

Jason nodded reluctantly, frowning, and looking at her with concern. "Are you going to be okay? You sure you want me to leave?"

"Yeah, I'll be all right once I find Jean-Claude. Go on. I understand."

The werewolf bent towards her and kissed her, then turned and hurried out. Anita looked around again, stretched out with her power down the open marks to feel Jean-Claude, then determinedly headed for the master bedroom.

She had no sooner reached for the knob when the door opened and Jean-Claude suddenly stood before her wearing his black, fur-lined robe. He looked slightly flushed and tousled and Anita wondered if he had been feeding. The way he was inadvertently barring her entry suggested to her he might have someone in there.

"Ah, ca va, ma petite," Jean-Claude greeted Anita rather breathlessly through the partially opened door. "What brings you out here this evening? I was not expecting you."

"Oh, I'm just peachy," she grumbled. "I've had maybe four hours sleep in the past forty-eight hours. And what's worse is, and I hate to say this after everything that's been going on lately, but I think Asher's run off again. After you left, he told me he was going outside for a cigarette, but he never came back. I waited all night. I thought maybe he'd show up tonight, but I had to run to work, and couldn't hang around. I got back an hour or so ago, but no one had seen him yet. I'm starting to panic now, Jean-Claude. I think he's really gone this time, and gone for good. "

"Ma petite, calm down," the vampire said quietly.

The door was suddenly pried from his grasp, and Asher appeared behind him clad in pale blue pajama bottoms that closely matched the color of his eyes. His hair was a tangled mass of spun gold and his eyes shimmered with a smoky, seductive glaze.

"Cherie, guess what?" he whispered, then wrapped his arm possessively around Jean-Claude's chest, pulling him up against him. Turning his head with his other hand, he leaned forward and dropped an open-mouthed kiss on his lips.

Anita's eyes widened and for a moment she couldn't breathe. A rush of varied and conflicting emotions all vied for attention in her brain, and made her face contort trying to accommodate each one. Her lungs started to burn and she abruptly realized she had stopped breathing and gasped a great lungful of air.

Jean-Claude grabbed her, and pulled her into the bedroom, guiding her over to the bed.

"Sit down," he murmured and planted himself down beside her and stroked her hair rather anxiously. He peered up at Asher with concern.

Asher knelt in front of her and took her hands in his. "Anita, forgive me for causing you to worry so. I suppose I should have called you. I am sorry." He kissed each of her hands in turn. "Please don't be mad."

Anita was still having trouble regulating her breathing, but she narrowed her eyes at the blonde vampire and yanked her hands out of his grasp, her anger momentarily pushing aside her shock.

"You're damned right you should have called!" she seethed, leaning forward threateningly which made him quickly lean back. "You can apologize all you want for this one, but right now, saying 'I'm sorry' just ain't gonna cut it!"

"Ma petite, please," Jean-Claude went on, taking hold of her shoulders and gathering her up against his chest. "Try to understand. We did not mean to cause you such distress and we offer you our sincerest apologies. It is just that...circumstances being what they were, we simply did not think to call."

"Oh, right. I understand. You were just too fucking busy to remember your manners," she grumbled. "Or maybe I should say, too busy fucking?" Anita pushed away from him. "So when were you two planning on clueing me in on these latest developments?" She looked from Jean-Claude to Asher, then back to Jean-Claude. "Or were you just going to let me find out for myself the next time we all piled up in bed together?"

Jean-Claude appeared to struggle somewhat with his temper before answering her.

"It is true, Asher and I were caught up in our re-awakening passions, and I will admit we should have shown more consideration for your concern. However, what happened between us last night was something of a personal nature, and though you most certainly had the right to be made aware of our new intimacy, being instrumental in its occurrence, I would not think our conduct in the bedroom is necessarily your concern. After all, I do not ask for the details of your private affairs which do not involve me."

"Jean-Claude!" Asher hissed through his teeth. "What are you implying? Anita has every right to be upset."

Anita held up her hand to silence him. "No, Asher," she said evenly, though her face grew hot and her body tightened itself into a knot. She closed her eyes momentarily and took several deep breaths. "He's suggesting I'm not exactly being fair. And to be honest, he's right. I'm not being fair."

"Fair? What is fair?" Asher continued, his own temper quickly surfacing. "I don't understand any of this." He gestured sharply at Jean-Claude. "Why is he angry? Why are you? I thought you'd be pleased. I thought you'd be happy for me." His pale blue eyes suddenly looked glassy and pained.

Jean-Claude glanced up at him and shook his head. "She is anything but pleased," he pointed out. "I can feel what she's feeling. I know what she is thinking. She is angry at us for causing her concern, but she is also angry at us for what we have done."

"I'm not angry!" Anita rumbled. "I'm...just a little overwhelmed right now, okay?"

Jean-Claude pointed a long, accusatory finger at her. "You gave us your consent. You said we had your blessings."

"I know I did!" Anita snapped.

Finally understanding, Asher peered down at Anita, aghast. "But now you regret it, don't you?" He sank back on his haunches and rested his hands limply in his lap. "It sounded all romantic and pretty to you when you didn't have to confront the reality of it, but now that you are forced to look at it, it is suddenly not so pretty to you anymore."

Anita got to her feet and backed away from the vampires. "Look, don't start on me. You don't understand."

"Oh, I think I do," Asher argued as he stood up and turned to face her. "Now you know your boyfriends are fucking each other, and you don't like it. Admit it!"

"All right! I admit it!" Anita shot back. "I thought I could handle the idea, but I can't! I guess I'm not as hip and liberal as I thought. So just sue me, okay?"

Asher clenched his fists at his sides and snarled at her. "You bitch!"

Jean-Claude was suddenly between them, pushing Asher away from Anita and turning on him with a heated look of warning. "Asher, don't! You are only making this worse!"

Asher suddenly seemed to crumple in his arms. He hugged Jean-Claude tightly and buried his face in his hair, his body shaking with emotion.

Anita held up her hands. "I'm out of here."

Still holding Asher close, Jean-Claude peered over at Anita as he continued to soothe his distraught lover. He shook his head at her.

"I am sorry now...for all of us. I feel I have brought this on myself. On Asher and on you. I should have known. I should have never let it go this far, but the temptation...oh, ma petite, the temptation was too great. I know you tried, and I'm grateful for your efforts. I am not angry with you, but I am deeply disappointed."

Asher abruptly pulled away from Jean-Claude, and dropped to his knees in front of Anita. He grabbed her hand and covered it with kisses.

"Please, cherie. You said I could have him, don't take him away from me now. I love him. I love him as I love you. I'm begging you, try harder to understand. It is an expression of our love. We express our love for you in the very same way. Don't forbid it. Give it a chance. Please Anita. Please."

Forbid? At first, Anita thought Asher's choice of words were somewhat melodramatic, but on second thought, she knew whatever she decided would be law and neither vampire would dare to break it. Anita squeezed Asher's hand.

"Oh Asher," she moaned and tried to pull him to his feet, but the vampire wouldn't budge. "I know everything you're saying is absolutely true, but I just can't help the way I feel." She looked over at Jean-Claude for some kind of help, but the other vampire had his eyes fixed to the floor and appeared to have completely withdrawn inside himself. Anita sighed. "I'm just not ready to deal with this yet. I need more time. I'm sorry. Really I am." Her eyes began to burn. "You have every right to hate me now, and I don't blame you if you do."

Asher stood up and released her hand. His face seemed to darken with despair. "I could never hate you, Anita," he said and sighed. "I love you too much. No matter what, you will always have a warm place in my cold, cold heart."

Then Asher nodded slowly, and turned back around to face Jean-Claude. Hesitantly, he placed his arms around his once-again-ex-lover and tenderly kissed his cheek.

"We did have one night, mon amour," he whispered. "And it was a glorious and beautiful night. I will cherish it forever."

Jean-Claude looked up at him. "You understand then? You are not angry with me?"

Asher passed his hand over his hair. "No. I understand." He cupped Jean-Claude's chin in his hand and raised his face up to him. "At least now you know I truly love you, and even more, I know you love me." He kissed him then, softly and sweetly, then reluctantly pulled away.

Anita wiped at her watering eyes. "Could you two make me feel any more like the evil villain in this tale?" she mumbled.

Jean-Claude and Asher both turned to look at her.

"We do not mean to, ma petite," Jean-Claude said, his voice catching slightly with emotion. "And know there will be no further displays of our affection between us. We will comply with your wishes."

Anita shuffled over to the bed and sank down on it.

"But it will never be the same between us now, will it? I ruined everything." She threw herself back across the mattress, blinking back her persistent tears. "I can't help it though. I'm just too fucking selfish when it comes to you. Maybe I'm just too insecure."

Jean-Claude moved to the bed and eased himself down beside her. He reached over and ran his fingers lightly down the side of her face. She peered over at him and he leaned towards her and kissed her lingeringly.

"In a way, I suppose I should be pleased you are so possessive of me," he said quietly, nuzzling her brow. "I have never been with anyone who wasn't willing to pass me around."

Anita felt the bed shift again as Asher stretched his long frame out along her other side. He wrapped his arm around her waist and snuggled up to her, laying his head in the crook of her shoulder.

Anita ran her hand over his hair and swallowed hard. "I'm sorry, Asher. I'm so sorry."

"Some things are just not meant to be," he replied in a barely audible voice. He sighed softly and shrugged slightly.

"You know, you could always just tell me to go to hell," Anita murmured. "You could call me on this one and I wouldn't have any right to protest it."

Asher raised his head slightly. "But at what cost, cherie?" He gestured across her at Jean-Claude. "Even I know that is a price he is not willing to pay."

"Why not?" she muttered. "It would only make me unhappy with you. Would that be so bad? I think nothing of making you two unhappy. Why not make me unhappy for a change?"

"Anita," Jean-Claude said, turning her face towards him again. "Enough. We accept your decision. We will simply continue on as we were. We were content and happy together in that way. It is an appropriate compromise."

"A compromise?" Asher questioned, peering over at Jean-Claude. "I don't call that much of a compromise. It is her way, or no way at all." He paused and turned his attention on Anita. "We could carry on behind your back. How would you know really? Jean and I can be very discreet."

"Asher," Jean-Claude said, growling his name in warning.

Anita suddenly recalled the sensations she experienced the night before. All of a sudden, the orgasms made sense.

"You're wrong," she told the blonde vampire. "I would know. I did know. I just didn't put two and two together until now."

Jean-Claude and Asher both looked at her.

"What?" Asher pressed, confused.

"I felt Jean-Claude's...pleasure, through the marks," Anita went on. "Glimpses of it anyhow. I didn't understand what it was at first. I'd never felt anything like it before. But then his fidelity to me has been exemplary. He's never been with anyone else since he's been with me. So, if you two tried to carry on behind my back, I'd know in a New York minute."

Asher moaned and slumped back down on the bed, clearly disappointed as if he had actually been considering doing just that, but now realized it was out of the question.

Jean-Claude offered Anita a little smile however and raised one brow. "That is good to know," he murmured and leaned over to kiss her. "Should I ever get the urge to be unfaithful, being aware of your power's sensitivity will give me pause enough to put me back on the straight and narrow."

"So basically, there is no hope," Asher lamented.

Anita sighed. "Of him cheating on me...ah, no," she told him. "But as for the two of you being lovers openly, I wouldn't say there isn't any hope. I told you, you just have to give me a little more time to get used to the idea. You know, it took me years to even consider letting you two sleep together."

"Just years? Why, that's nothing to a creature who has been celibate for centuries."

"Yeah years," Anita said enthusiastically, despite Asher's sarcasm. It surprised her how much she wanted to at least give him some iota of hope. As much as she had changed these past few years, she wasn't about to totally dismiss the possibility. "You know, maybe a year or so from now, we can come up with a compromise."

"Ah, there's that word again. The elusive compromise." Asher raised himself up on his elbow and peered down at her. "Why can't we strike a compromise now?"

Intrigued, Anita looked up at him. "Oh yeah? Like what?"

"Asher, no," Jean-Claude said, narrowing his eyes. "Let it go."

Asher leaned over Anita to address Jean-Claude. His fair brow furrowed and his pale eyes darkened slightly. "Calm down, Jean-Claude. What's the worse she could say? No?"

Jean-Claude slumped back down on the mattress with a heavy sigh and stared up at the ceiling, in a sense, washing his hands of the whole affair.

Asher looked down at Anita and cradled her face with his fingers.

"Listen to me," he said carefully. "If you don't like the idea, just say so."

Anita looked back at him warily, but was still intrigued. "All right. Shoot."

Asher took a deep breath. "What if we practiced the better part of discretion when we were with you, continuing on as lovers, but only when we were by ourselves? Yes, you would know about it, but wouldn't that be better than us blatantly going against your wishes or waving it under your nose?"

Anita started to automatically say no, but then stopped herself. Asher was proposing a viable compromise, and compromise was the very lifeforce of every relationship. She cleared her throat before responding.

"Like: out of sight, out of mind?"

Asher nodded.

Anita frowned as she considered this. "But it's the knowing part that bothers me. The seeing part just brings it all home in Technicolor."

Jean-Claude stirred on the other side of her.

"Ma petite, I don't believe you would feel comfortable with either aspect of our relationship. I would rather you not agree to anything again that will cause you unease and make you recant yet another attempt to demonstrate your...liberality."

Anita looked over at him, but he wouldn't meet her eyes. He continued staring blankly up at the ceiling above his head. She knew he was warning her in a sense, to be very careful before agreeing to Asher's compromise. It made her think if she did rescind her offer later, the repercussions would be even worse than they were now. She also felt as if she had been challenged in a way--as if he were daring her to say yes and stick to it this time. Anita turned towards Asher again and thought for a long moment, before responding.

"Actually I think that sounds do-able," she said hesitantly, but determined to work something out between them, "but that's going to make it awfully hard on both of you when you're with me, isn't it?"

Readily, Asher shook his head, making his hair dance lightly around his face.

"Non, cherie, Jean and I have been together with others many times that way. Julianna was the only one who allowed us to love each other as we loved her. But then, she was exceptionally agreeable on many things others were not. Even Belle would not permit such an indulgence in her bed."

Frowning deeply, Anita peered at Asher with a look of disdain. "Oh, so even if I agree to this...compromise, this still puts me right down there with sweet, lovable Belle in your book," she grumbled.

Suddenly sensing he had said something wrong, Asher grew still beside Anita.

"Ma cherie, I did not mean to imply such a thing," he said softly, lowering his voice to the most soothing of tones. "I was merely relaying a fact."

Jean-Claude released a hiss of breath through his teeth. He raised himself up on one arm and glared at Asher over Anita's body.

"Oh, it was veiled, mon cher, but it was nevertheless there," he rumbled. "Even I caught the implication."

Anita reached up and placed her hands on both vampires' chests as if to keep them from trying to attack each other over her. She faced Asher.

"Look, I'm sorry I'm not that perfect a servant. Unlike your beloved Julianna, I wasn't given the choice of being a vampire's servant at first, and then I was coerced into it the second time by Richard because he needed me to, and you know, if I had to do it all over again, I really kind of doubt I would. I thought my life was complicated before! Ha! That was nothing compared to what it is now being supernaturally shackled to a master vampire. But I've accepted it and I am trying to make the best of it because I love him and I want him to be safe." She flung her hand in Jean-Claude's direction. "I may not meet with your standards, Asher, but all I can be is myself. If that's not good enough for you, then maybe you should just go...bug somebody else."

Asher and Jean-Claude both stared down at her. Then Asher lowered himself back down to her side and put his arm around her, nuzzling her neck.

"Is that what we do? 'Bug' you?" he whispered. He pressed a soft kiss on her warm skin. The sensation of the touch of his cool lips made Anita's whole body tingle.

Jean-Claude resumed his position on her other side, pressing the line of his body as close to her as he could. He entwined his leg around hers and rested his hand on her stomach. Leaning over, he started delicately nibbling her ear.

"Who said you were not perfect?" he breathed into it, sending shivers down her spine. "You are everything I desire and more. Much more."

"You are just a little rough around the edges," Asher murmured, turning her head back towards him to cover her mouth with a soft, sultry kiss.

Jean-Claude stroked her throat with his hand and shifted his body slightly so he half lay over her. As soon as Asher released her, he turned her face back towards him and kissed her deeply. Anita felt Asher's hand slip beneath her jacket and cover her breast. He squeezed it and pinched her nipple through the material of her shirt until it hardened.

As enjoyable as their attentions were, Anita suddenly felt overwhelmed. She wiggled free of them, and pushed them away from her with her hands.

"Wait, I feel as if I'm under attack," she protested and took several deep breaths to try to clear out the cloud of lust rapidly hazing her mind so she could think. "Okay, maybe not under attack, but there's definitely some serious undermining of my defenses going on here."

The two vampires looked back at her with matching expressions of pure innocence.

"Ma petite," Jean-Claude began. "Such indignation hardly seems justified. Our intent was simply to please you after upsetting you so."

"You are too suspicious," Asher chided. "We were only being affectionate. If we were attempting anything, it would be to get you to take off your clothes."

Staring at Asher, Anita's eyes widened and her mouth fell open in surprise. "Are you serious?" she exclaimed. "How can either of you possibly be in the mood for that?"

Asher raised his brow and regarded Anita with a look that told her it should be obvious. "Lying beside you the way I am...holding you close, with your body so warm and soft and sweet-smelling. You know I find you irresistible, cherie, and right now, I would enjoy nothing more than to press my naked flesh to yours, and love you in my embrace."

Anita frowned and edged away from him. "Yeah right. Five minutes ago, you called me a bitch and looked at me like you wanted to rip my arms off."

The vampire lowered his eyes and adopted an appropriately contrite expression. "I do tend to be a little temperamental at times, but you should know, nothing stirs my blood more than a heated, passionate exchange with a beautiful, fiery-eyed woman." He raised his eyes and offered her a sly, little smile, and reached over to smooth his hand down her arm. "At least take your jacket off, Anita. You'll be much more comfortable if you do."

"No, I don't think so," Anita countered, shaking her head and struggling to her feet. "Sorry, but I couldn't be any less in the mood to fool around than I am right now. As a matter of fact, I think I should just go."

She turned and focused her attention on Jean-Claude, who had been strangely silent throughout Asher's odd seduction. Gazing on him now, Anita understood why. At first, he seemed merely lost in thought--his eyes fastened on a wrinkle in the bedsheets just to the left of him. A single, spiraling strand of black hair lay over it and beside that was a single strand of silken gold. It was an inadvertently artistic composition, something you'd see in a painting, abstractly portraying a passionate and playful repartee from the night before.

Suddenly aware of Anita's attention, Jean-Claude looked up at her and abruptly slammed his shields in place.

But Anita had already seen the memory playing out in his mind before he did. She understood the fascination that wrinkle held for him now and suddenly she found it just as intriguing and could not tear her eyes away from it.

Apparently, his hand had caused that wrinkle when he had grasped the sheets on either side of Asher's hips. As Jean-Claude was going down on him, his long black hair kept spilling forward. He had swept it aside and pushed it all over one shoulder. The ends of it curled around his wrist on that side and lay against Asher's thigh. The rhythmic movements of Jean-Claude's head, made his fine hair brush over Asher's skin and tickled him, making his leg twitch from time to time. Jean-Claude noticed, and began utilizing his hair, purposefully trailing the ends over Asher's abdomen and groin in a kind of sweet, sensual torture.

"That memory came to me unbidden," Jean-Claude spoke up suddenly, pulling Anita out of her trance-like reverie.

A tinge of hurt pricked at Anita's psyche to think Jean-Claude believed he needed to apologize to her for a memory that deserved to be treasured. She shook her head and reached out to touch his cheek.

"It's all right," she told him, swallowing down the tightness in her throat. "It was nice to see. I would have never imagined your lovemaking would include teasing each other. It shows how comfortable a couple you are, and it's heartwarming, and sweet. You and Asher are really beautiful together."

Rising from the bed, Jean-Claude pulled away from her and shook his head. "What does it matter?" he muttered and moved to stand beside the settee, gathering his robe tighter around his shoulders.

Anita looked from him to Asher, who was staring back at her with a slightly confused expression. She took a deep breath.

"It does matter," Anita began and faced Jean-Claude once more. "I'll tell you why, but first, I want to back up a bit, to the morning after we had decided to become a threesome. Jason had helped me out of the bed and was trying to lead me away, but I remember wanting to just stand there and gaze at the two of you." She paused and pointed at Jean-Claude. "You looked so incredible. Your hair was fanned out around your body, your legs were open and you were still just slightly erect. You looked like you were posing for a photo shoot for Playgirl. And then you," Anita turned to face Asher again, "were lying beside him, with that amazing body of yours practically covered in blood. Your lips were stained with it, your skin glistened with it, you were all red and gold like a tropical sunset after a storm. Both of you were 'dead' and sticky with blood and sex and I should have taken one look at you and run from the room screaming. But instead, I was absolutely enchanted. Well, not literally, we established that fact awhile ago, but don't you see? The point I'm trying to make is--"

"Oh, thank goodness, she is getting to the point," Asher interrupted, folding his arms across his chest. Anita knew he did not care to be reminded of the little faux pas he'd committed that night which could have costed them everything. In fact, neither of them had spoken of it since the matter had been resolved.

"The point is," Anita stressed, shooting Asher an admonishing look, "I wasn't as grossed-out as I thought I'd be. As I should have been. If anyone had told me before I'd be trapped naked and bloody in bed between two dead vampires after having been savagely bitten by one, I'd have never even walked into this room that night."

Asher was suddenly incensed. "How many times do you want me to apologize for that? A hundred? A thousand? What am I up to now? Eighty-five?"

Anita reached over and grabbed his chin forcing him to look her in the eye. "Will you shut up about that? This has nothing to do with you! It has to do with me! You missed my point entirely." She released him with a slight shove and turned to face Jean-Claude in exasperation.

"Are you suggesting that episode relates to the memory of Asher and I making love?" Jean-Claude surmised. "The way you reacted unexpectedly to both?"

Anita smiled and nodded. "Yes! Yes! I'm saying maybe I'm not as uptight about this as I thought I was."

Asher was finally catching on. "But when you realized Jean and I were lovers, you did not exactly welcome the fact with open arms."

"I still say I was more overwhelmed by it all than anything," Anita replied in her defense. "I was ready to strangle you for worrying me the way you did and pissed at him for being so wrapped up in you, literally, he didn't even think about me. Then when you kissed him like that and he let you, it just kind of shocked me--it pushed me over the edge, and I just made up my mind right then and there I didn't want it. I suddenly knew exactly what he had been feeling when he came to my house in a snit. Threatened. He felt threatened. I felt threatened too."

Asher rose to his feet and took hold of Anita's arms. "But he remembered something that happened between us, and it didn't upset you," he guessed.

Anita nodded. "No. I actually enjoyed it. I wish he would have let me see more." She slowly turned her eyes to Jean-Claude. He looked back at her, his face perfectly blank.

"A flash of memory can hardly be compared to witnessing the flesh and blood mechanics of the actual act of sex, ma petite," he said quietly. "You are trying to be bold and I know you want to be fair, but in the end, you will only make the situation more uncomfortable for us all."

"You're worried," Anita declared, moving towards him. "You're so afraid of offending me, you won't even consider taking what I'm saying at face value. I can only offer you that, Jean-Claude. I can't give you anything definite, and I can't promise you things will work out, but don't you trust me enough to even want to try?"

Jean-Claude peered at her warily. "You make me sound cynical, ma petite," he murmured. "I am being realistic. I am simply loathe to chase possibilities that will only lead to further heartache. Even if what you are saying is true, how will we know for certain without becoming far more involved than any of us may want to be?"

"You mean as far as my watching you two together?" Anita took off her jacket and draped it over a nearby chair. "Well, there's only one way to find out," she said, fixing her eyes on his with a sultry, seductive stare.

Jean-Claude backed away from her.


Asher picked up his cue. He stalked forward, coming to stand directly behind Jean-Claude as Anita positioned herself in front of him. She stretched up on her toes and lightly touched his lips with hers, pressing her body close as her hands slipped under the collar of his robe.

Jean-Claude tried to back away again, but only backed into Asher. The blonde vampire pushed his hair aside, and dotted delicate kisses down the bared nape of his neck. Jean-Claude's resistance seemed to dissipate with his senses under such an assault.

"Stop," Jean-Claude protested futilely. Anita pulled open his robe. Asher took it from her and slid it off his shoulders and down his arms, letting it fall to the floor. Jean-Claude closed his eyes and shivered slightly. "Why are you doing this to me? You're being cruel."

"Don't be afraid. I love you," Asher whispered in his ear and kissed the side of his face. "I won't let anything bad happen. I promise. Anita is willing, mon ami. How else can we convince you?"

"Relax," Anita said quietly, gently petting the long rippling locks of black hair draped over Jean-Claude's right shoulder, cascading down to his navel. "It will be all right. I want this."

Moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue, Anita's eyes flicked to Asher as he shimmied out of his silk bottoms. Then his arms encircled Jean-Claude's slim waist and he imprisoned Jean-Claude's back against his chest.

Jean-Claude turned his head and looked at Asher, his eyes quietly pleading. Asher hugged him and pressed a light kiss on his brow.

"Look at your servant, Jean-Claude," Asher continued softly. "She is so beautiful, and sensual. Just like you." He nipped his shoulder and rubbed himself against him. Jean-Claude emitted a little growl of frustration which soon turned into a soft groan of desire. "Make love to her, mon cher, as I make love to you."

Jean-Claude pried his eyes off Asher, and peered down at Anita, who had since removed her shirt and jeans. She was clad only in her lingerie now, a dark, sapphire-blue set of shimmery satin.

Anita offered him a smoldering gaze and wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Do you like these? I bought them because they matched the color of your eyes," she told him softly, and nuzzled his chest.

Tentatively, Jean-Claude raised his hand and traced the soft, lacy edge of her bra, running his fingers over her cleavage and up the other side of her strap.

"He's right. You are...so beautiful," he breathed and wrapped his arm around her back. "Why do I even try to fight it? I am conquered completely. Felled by love."

Anita buried her fingers into his hair and urged his head lower for another kiss, gently opening his mouth and dipping her tongue inside. Jean-Claude moaned faintly, and kissed her back hungrily. She could feel Asher's hands too, on her sides now, kneading her flesh, and pushing Jean-Claude tighter against her. His body was finally responding to all the erotic sensations he was being subjected to and he was getting more aroused with every passing minute. Anita carefully inched him back towards the bed, making sure Asher followed.

Jean-Claude simply seemed to regard the bed as an inevitable destination now, and trailed after Anita readily enough. She climbed up on it and pulled him up with her. Once they were settled on the bed, Asher shifted slightly behind Jean-Claude, easing him over on his side, his hands roving the other vampire's body as he dragged his mouth up and down the length of his neck. Lying down in front of Jean-Claude, Anita snuggled up to him and wrapped her leg around his thigh, aligning her hips to his.

Jean-Claude gazed piercingly at Anita, and reached up to stroke the side of Asher's face as Asher clutched him tightly and gnawed on his up-turned jaw.

"Are you certain you want to do this?" Jean-Claude asked, his usually melodious voice slightly husky with desire now. He closed his eyes momentarily and released a long drawn-out sigh as Asher's hand skimmed the line between their bodies.

"Yes," Anita said and nodded, her heart racing, her mind transfixed by the sight of the two devastatingly handsome vampires so intimately entwined. "But I'm not really sure how though," she added, shyly, looking from Asher to Jean-Claude.

"Not to worry, cherie," Asher said soothingly over Jean-Claude's shoulder. "We will take extra care with you." He leaned back some and ran his palms up Jean-Claude's chest, over his nipples. He pinched them between his fingers, making him writhe in his arms.

Anita covered Asher's straying hands with her own as he continued to caress Jean-Claude. Occasionally, they'd switch, and it would be Anita's hands Asher's hands followed.

Jean-Claude's hands were busy as well, claiming Anita's body, touching her everywhere he could reach, and in time, relieving her of the dark blue bra and panties she was wearing, with a practiced ease. As Asher continued to lavish attention on him, Jean-Claude kissed her devouringly, over and over, bringing her over and over to the brink of satisfaction, backing off at just the right moment to keep her on edge.

Then as if on cue, he and Asher traded places, and suddenly it was Asher's lips grinding against hers and Asher's hands stroking her body. He wreaked havoc on her senses as well, reducing her to a quivering, panting mass of hot flesh, all but tortured with anticipation.

Just when Anita was beginning to think she couldn't wait any longer, Jean-Claude slithered over Asher's body and covered Anita, capturing her mouth and pinning her shoulders flat against the bed with his hands to keep her from moving. He entered her smoothly and forced her hips down, throwing all his weight against her.

Anita shuddered and whimpered in frustration, trying to push upwards against him. If she could have freed her arms she would have slapped his ass to get him moving.

"Fuck me, damn it!"

"She's ready," Jean-Claude announced to Asher breathlessly. "Do it now."

"I'm ready," Asher panted in reply. "Are you, cheri?"

Jean-Claude peered down into Anita's face, searching her eyes for any sign of hesitation. Finally, he nodded, apparently satisfied by what he saw reflected there.

"Oui," he whispered and bent to kiss Anita softly.

Asher rose off the bed momentarily, but Anita couldn't see where he disappeared to. He was back on the bed in seconds, and positioned himself directly behind Jean-Claude.

Anita suddenly knew what they were about to do, and the thought made her heart race with anticipation and her already pulsing insides throb even more around Jean-Claude's hardness.

"Don't move," Jean-Claude told her with a ragged sigh, then pressed his cheek against her head and seemed to brace himself.

Anita grasped his arms and nodded, feeling Asher's weight descend down on top of them both. Asher's hair spilled over Jean-Claude's shoulders as he leaned his head upon Jean-Claude's back. Tensing, Jean-Claude's eyes glazed over momentarily, and his mouth opened, but he seemed to have stopped breathing. His hips were pushed against hers, and Anita tried opening her legs farther to accommodate the increasingly intense pressure. Finally, Jean-Claude released the breath he'd been holding, and the tension in his body slowly ebbed away.

Asher raised his head, and propped himself up on one muscular arm to touch Anita's face as he kissed Jean-Claude's cheek.

"A little nervous, eh, mon ami?"

Jean-Claude flashed a quick smile, and pushed himself up against him, taking the majority of his weight off Anita.

"Oui," he admitted a little shyly, then looked down at Anita, and gave her the same dashingly sexy smile.

"Can I move now?" Anita asked, her voice sounding strangely thick. Her whole body was tingling and trembling, and she had the feeling once she started moving she wasn't ever going to stop.

"Oh, oui," Asher chimed from above. "Wiggle that sweet little ass to your heart's content, ma cherie."

With that, Asher shifted and drew himself backwards; Jean-Claude gasped and groaned, his fingers digging into the already rumpled sheets on either side of Anita's head, and Anita felt an exquisite dragging of Jean-Claude's thickness through her body as Asher alternately ground into him and pulled back. She realized, despite feeling Jean-Claude moving inside her, he wasn't really the one moving. Asher was moving, and moving him as well. Each downward thrust was a slow and careful push of a forceful and driving pressure that already had Anita's mind spiraling wildly with ecstasy.

"How does it feel, ma petite?" Jean-Claude asked her, brushing his lips over her brow.

"Faster," Anita panted. "Please." She wasn't sure whether to beg Jean-Claude, or Asher. "I'm fine. Please. I want to really feel you. I want to feel you both."

Asher scraped his teeth over Jean-Claude's shoulder, peering down at Anita with a slightly amused expression, then turned his head to whisper in Jean-Claude's ear.

"I love this woman," he said, and simultaneously increased his rhythm to comply with her wishes.

"I do too," Jean-Claude gasped back, as he was pushed into Anita once more.

Anita picked up her own rhythm based on Asher's, and ground her hips against Jean-Claude's, pressing her thighs tightly to his sides. Soon all three of them were moving together as smoothly as a well-honed machine to one ultimate purpose. Their sighs and groans filled the room in a sweetly harmonized chorus of carnal pleasures, and all three of them rapidly began to skirt the edge now. They could feel each other's bodies clenching and releasing, quaking and laboring for satisfaction.

Jean-Claude came first as Asher drove himself harder into him in the final thrusts of his passion to finish up, then he came, riding out Jean-Claude's orgasm, and both of them sent Anita careening into an intense climax. For several seconds all three were simultaneously lost in mind-shattering ecstasy.

No one could move, no one breathed, and everyone's heart, including Anita's stopped. With their bodies still fused together, the waves of pleasure began to subside, and they finally collapsed on top of each other, in a broken, tangled heap, gulping air, and shuddering with zaps of aftershocks.

After pressing a soft kiss between his shoulder blades, Asher rolled off Jean-Claude and sprawled on the sheets beside him and Anita. He cuddled close to her and lay his head against hers, throwing his arm across Jean-Claude's back.

They held each other like that for awhile, content just to be close while they soaked up the last remnants of their slowly fading afterglows. Finally, Asher reached up and brushed the stray strands of hair plastered to Anita's face, then propped himself up on his elbow and peered down at her.

"Well, ma cherie," he began in a thick, growly voice. "What did you think?"

Anita tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry and she was still having trouble regulating her breathing with Jean-Claude lying on top of her. She pushed at him and he moaned in protest, but slid off, and pacified himself by curling his body around her side.

"Give...me a minute...okay?" she replied hoarsely.

Jean-Claude reached over and traced the curve of her gently heaving breast with his fingertips.

"Ma petite, you surprise me," he whispered, his own voice sounding a little raw. "I never felt the slightest apprehension in you." He leaned over and kissed her cheek. "I am...convinced."

Anita shook her head slightly. "It wasn't what I was expecting," she admitted. "I didn't think of us doing something like...that."

"You enjoyed it," Asher stated more than asked. "And the way you enjoyed it, surprised even me. That was just a demonstration, really, of one of the countless ways we can be intimate together. If you would like, cherie, Jean-Claude and I would be happy to demonstrate another."

Anita held up her hand. "Just give me a minute, both of you," she responded and struggled to sit up. She took a deep breath, then twisted around to face the two vampires still lying on the bed. She noticed they exchanged wary looks with each other before turning their full attention on her.

"Ma petite, what is it?" Jean-Claude asked quietly.

Asher frowned. "Are you having second thoughts...again?"

Anita frowned back at him. "I think now would be a good time to discuss our little compromise," she announced.

Both Jean-Claude and Asher sat up as if pulled by invisible strings.

"Compromise?" Asher growled. "After what you just experienced? Now you want to compromise?"

Jean-Claude glared over at him, then looked down at Anita with concern. "So you did not like it after all?"

Anita sighed. "Well, to be truthful, I've got this little nagging voice inside my head telling me I should be ashamed of myself, and I should be utterly revolted by you two. I know the only reason I'm even hearing that voice now is because, and I have to admit this, I loved it. Really. But I don't think I can handle something that intense all the time, let alone several times a night. You gentlemen have to remember, you're a tad more seasoned at this sort of thing than I am. Let's say, you don't spring anymore surprises on me like that unless I ask for them, okay?"

Asher reached up and pushed his long bangs off his face. "I don't understand." A thought suddenly occurred to him which made him suddenly lower his eyes. "Does this mean, Jean-Claude and I cannot be lovers?"

Anita reached over and cradled his chin in her hand, forcing him to look at her. "Do you love him?"

Asher's eyes drifted towards Jean-Claude's. He held his gaze for a moment before focusing back on Anita.

"Oui," he sighed heavily. "I love him."

Anita nodded and turned to face Jean-Claude. "And do you love Asher?"

Jean-Claude nodded. "He has always had a place in my heart."

Anita smiled. Even though she was a woman basking in the afterglow of some pretty zesty sex and still not thinking all that rationally, Anita knew she would have agreed to give the vampires her consent anyway. She no longer felt threatened by their love for each other, and she blushingly had to admit, watching them together was pretty damn hot.

"Then by whatever authority invested in me, I pronounce you officially...lovers," she stated, with a self-satisfied smile, feeling silly and romantic and happy. "You two can work out the mechanics from now on."

For a moment, the vampires merely stared back at her blankly, as if in shock. Then slowly, her words apparently began to register in their minds. Asher and Jean-Claude smiled at each other, a cocktail of emotions flickering in their eyes. Then, they leaned forward, coming together as if on cue, and kissed each other tenderly.

"Oh yeah, you may now..." Anita paused and tried to find the right words. "Kiss each other."

The vampires parted, exchanged a knowing, conspiratory look with each other, and simultaneously pounced on Anita, pushing her back down on the bed under a barrage of grateful kisses.

She laughed and squirmed as their kisses quickly became a little more passionate, a little more lingering, and their hands began to caress her a little more intimately. Asher's hand kneaded her left breast as Jean-Claude's hand rubbed her between her legs. Asher nibbled on her neck as Jean-Claude French-kissed her to the point of breathlessness.

So for now, it was back to sex the "old-fashioned" way. Or so her men thought. Anita had told them to give her a minute. She had had more than a minute. Now she was ready to do it again. Maybe with Jean-Claude on top this time.



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