His midnight blue eyes were fixed on the young thing clad in black leather who'd just finished dancing as if her life
depended on it. She was leaving the dance floor, radiating excitement and energy. As if feeling his gaze, she turned to glance
in his direction and fell into those drowning blue orbs.
Jean-Claude broke eye contact as soon as he realized what he'd done, but a quick glance told him she was rooted to
her spot on the floor, jaw slightly slack.
Cursing silently, Jean-Claude threaded his way through the crowd. "Return to dancing. Forget this happened," he ordered
her quietly as he brushed past her. He did not look back to see if she obeyed him. He was upset that he'd rolled someone without
even meaning to. If Anita found out he was bespelling the club's patrons, he'd never hear the end of it.
Ah, ma petite, Jean-Claude thought. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be in this predicament.
While Anita certainly had no lack of male companionship, Jean-Claude was forced into celibacy while she sorted out
her tangled web of suitors. And it was taking its toll. He needed to find a way to feed the ardeur soon; feeding vicariously
wasn't enough to fully satisfy it, and he felt it rise to the surface more often than he'd care to admit.
The crowd had flowed out of his way as he walked, but now a short brunette stepped forward to tentatively bar his path,
gazing at him in open adoration. Normally, he would have walked past her without a glance, but now he felt compelled to turn
his gaze to her.
She was wearing less clothing than Jason usually wore, all of it crimson, which suited her dark complexion perfectly.
The ardeur was drawn to her as a moth to a flame.
Sensing his interest, she moved her body towards him seductively and reached out to slide her fingers down his chest.
Inside, Jean-Claude shivered, though outwardly he remained untouched. The ardeur surged forward, and Jean-Claude met her beautiful
brown eyes, so much like those of another petite brunette he knew.
"Merde," he muttered when he realized what he was doing. He drew back from her as she shivered in pleasure from being
rolled. "Go," he told her, and turned to retreat from the temptations of the club.
Leaning against the wall next to the door was one of the greatest temptations of all. Inwardly, Jean-Claude cringed
at the thought that Asher might have been watching him.
Asher unfolded himself from his perch and threw half of his golden hair over his shoulder, leaving the other half in
the perpetual curtain that hid him from the world. "You should be thankful Anita is not here tonight, mon ami."
Jean-Claude was unsure how to interpret Asher's neutral tone, so replied only, "Yes."
Jean-Claude moved to the door and escaped to his office, well aware that Asher had followed.
"If I didn't know you better, I might think you bespelled those girls accidentally, mon ami." At Jean-Claude's sharp
look, Asher continued, "Yes, I saw all four of them. Or were there more?"
Jean-Claude turned his back to Asher and walked through the shadows of the room to his desk, where a lamp was lit.
He refused to show anger at Asher's questions. "Is there a reason you are questioning my actions, mon ami?" His tone
was light, but held threat as he echoed Asher's "mon ami" sardonically.
Jean-Claude gracefully descended into the large chair behind his desk.
Asher ignored Jean-Claude's tone and simply said, "I worry that you are losing your control, and wonder how such a
thing could be possible for you."
Jean-Claude turned away, unwilling to defend himself and angry at his lack of control. Asher continued, more gently,
"What is wrong, Jean-Claude?"
"What do you think is wrong, Asher?" He snapped, turning his gaze sharply upon his second-in-command. "Anita flirts
constantly with both me and a dozen were, but denies us herself even as she denies us anyone else. I haven't fed in --"
Jean-Claude stopped the angry words as he realized who he was complaining to. Asher had been denied his own needs for
so long. Jean-Claude forced himself to regain control before the guilt could be seen on his face. The mask of a statue descended
upon him and he said, "I apologize. I am in no position to complain." He could not meet Asher's eyes.
Asher stood there, not speaking.
Jean-Claude finally raised his eyes, and nearly jumped out of his skin at the emotion he was greeted with.
Though Asher's face and posture had not seemed to change, his eyes had bled smoky gray and the ferocity of his gaze
made him seem so longing...
Both Jean-Claude and Asher felt it when the ardeur sprang up between them and twisted at their insides in a burst of
pleasure-filled pain. Even across the length of the room, Jean-Claude could see every detail of Asher's intense beauty. His
hair had even slid to the side, revealing his other eye and the beginning of the scars. Jean-Claude was overcome with need
and knew his skin must be glowing with it.
Reason pervaded his senses, and Jean-Claude closed his eyes quickly, trying desperately to clamp down on his raging
need. He heard the door open and sensed that Asher had left, having made his point very clear, perhaps surprising them both
in the process.
Jean-Claude returned to the Circus, seeking solitude, but found himself unable to relax. He needed to go hunting. He
needed to sate some small part of the ardeur, even if it would only serve to prolong his agony.
Although he didn't want to share this side of himself with anyone, Jean-Claude found he was out of options. There were
only so many ways to appease this hunger.
Jean-Claude sent for Jason. The wolf came readily, if confused -- Jean-Claude had fed from him earlier.
Jason looked to Jean-Claude for an explanation. "My wolf, you know I care for you."
"I feel I should do something to reward you, mon pomme de sang," Jean-Claude said, feeling his responsibility toward
Jason would be a plausible enough reason to cover this.
Jason shivered in anticipation, but nodded again. He followed when Jean-Claude told him to, perplexed as to why they
were leaving the Circus.
Jean-Claude led him to the park and into the shadows. They sat, leaning against the trunk of a tree, and Jean-Claude
leaned in for Jason's neck, whispering as an afterthought, "You may want to give yourself some room, my wolf."
Jason unzipped his skin-tight pants, shivering again as he wondered why they were doing this outside. Then he heard
them. The young couple nearby, giggling somewhere by a group of benches.
When Jean-Claude's fangs pierced his skin, all rational thought ceased. Jason was inside that couple, feeling everything
they felt. Suddenly the young people's pleasure level quadrupled, and they began to rapidly shed their clothing.
Jean-Claude loosed his incubus into the couple, charging their pleasure to amazing heights. He soaked it all in, reveling
in this feeding. He felt Jason's entire body arch and convulse next to him as he howled in release, echoing the screams of
pleasure from the park bench. Silently, Jean-Claude joined them, throwing back masses of raven hair against the tree trunk
as his body reeled from the intensity of it all.
Jean-Claude left Jason to recover as he made sure the couple didn't seem rattled by Jason's howling. They seemed not
to have noticed at all and were lying in each other's arms, completely incapable of movement.
Jean-Claude and Jason returned to the Circus. "I'm going to go lie down," Jason said with a blush. "Thanks?"
Jean-Claude nodded solemnly then sought his own retreat from the dawn, thankful that the combination of blood and sex
had been intense enough to settle the ardeur deep inside him.
Jean-Claude awoke in the afternoon, earlier than any other vampire in the city. He reached through the marks towards
the presence of Anita that always tickled the corner of his senses. She was asleep, no doubt napping before tonight's zombie
Jean-Claude made his way to his own bedroom from the coffin room and drew a bath in the tub. All the while he was preparing
it, he strengthened the link between him and Anita. While the third mark gave him increased access to her, Anita was never
vulnerable, even in sleep. He would need to strengthen his hold on her in order to change her dreams.
He shivered as he slipped into the warm water, then sent Anita an image of the countryside of France and a lake he
and Asher had visited with Julianna.
She lay sprawled out on the grass by the lake in a light silk nightgown, just waking. The last rays of the sun glinted
off the lake, but the sky above was already darkening. Anita opened her eyes, feeling as though she was waking from a peaceful
Jean-Claude was suddenly looming above her, dressed elegantly as always. He allowed her to drink her fill of his beauty.
Then he gracefully seated himself next to her, the weight of his gaze along her body shifting things deep inside her.
He said not a word, and Anita relaxed.
She didn't see him move.
He was just suddenly on top of her, pinning her arms above her as he kissed her fiercely. She'd never known Jean-Claude
to be so forward when he invaded her dreams. The shock of what he was doing to her body numbed her mind. She couldn't muster
the willpower to shove him away or even protest.
What she did was respond. She kissed him back, so hard that her lip was cut on a fang.
The sudden taste of blood snapped what control Jean-Claude had left. He ground into her, swallowing the blood from
her mouth, then shredding the nightgown and pulling it away to reveal creamy skin.
Out of a haze of desire, Anita noticed someone standing by them, watching. "Asher," she breathed.
That one word brought Jean-Claude back to himself, and he eased his painful hold upon Anita.
Asher approached slowly, dropping to his knees beside them.
Jean-Claude reached out to him and ran his hand through Asher's long golden hair. Their eyes locked, solid blue and
gray, and Jean-Claude pulled Asher to them by his hair.
All at once, Jean-Claude resumed his passionate assault on Anita's body, even as Asher's face drew steadily closer
to hers. The last thing Anita felt was the delicate pain of fangs upon her neck as she fell into Asher's brillant eyes...
Jean-Claude returned to himself where he was lounging in the enormous tub, more physically aroused than should be possible
since he had not yet fed. Through the marks, he felt Anita writhing in her bed in the after-throes of pleasure.
He felt her racing heartbeat slow and was surprised to feel her reach for him through the marks, brush against his
presence, and then slowly shield herself again, almost like a parting kiss.
Jean-Claude finished his bath and fed on Jason. He left Jason in his bed, closing the bedroom door as he left. Outside
his door was Asher, waiting patiently.
Jean-Claude couldn't discern his expression, other than noting that Asher had fed recently and seemed to glow from
Jean-Claude stood in front of him, trying to suppress memories of Asher's body next to his as they fed from Anita in
the dream. Thank goodness Asher didn't know what Jean-Claude had accidentally incorporated into his fantasy with Anita.
Asher met his gaze, at least with the eye unhidden by hair, and said quietly, "I awoke several minutes early. To Anita's
dream." His gaze turned away as he added, "I watched?" and then walked away.
Jean-Claude was unsure what to say, so let him go.
Jean-Claude went to his office, ostensibly to take care of some paperwork. It was ironic how his greatest challenge
of the day was sorting out his income from the Circus and the various clubs he owned when only a few decades ago he was fighting
daily for survival, both from humankind and the master vampires he served.
His thoughts flowed to Asher. He remembered how it had been between them so long ago, before Julianna's death had torn
them apart. In the privacy of his own mind, he admitted that he still cared deeply for Asher. Could Asher possibly feel the
He immersed himself in his work. As the hours went by, his people awoke, fed, left the Circus, or hung around, busy
in intricate power games. Jean-Claude was a master at those particular games. He managed to spend the rest of his night making
his presence known and feared, both at the Circus and throughout the city.
When he returned to the Circus, confident that his hold upon the city was secure, he found a message that Anita had
called. He dialed her number as he sank into his office chair. At the sound of her voice, saying "hello?" he answered only,
The thrill of his voice, even over the phone, was intense. Anita slid out of her blood-stained coveralls and stood
partially dressed in the bathroom, intent on taking a shower once she finished with Jean-Claude.
"Where have you been all night?" she asked.
"Out," came his voice, low and seductive.
Anita was immensely grateful she wasn't talking to him in person. She let anger roll into her to overcome the desire
and told him why she'd tried to reach him. "I want you to stay out of my dreams," she told him.
Jean-Claude smiled at the memory of their shared dream. "No you don't," he said, with a hint of humor.
Anita closed her eyes against the pleasant memories and said firmly, "Yes, I do. Stay out of my dreams. I need to go
now -- I have to shower before the pack meeting."
Jean-Claude grimaced at the reminder that she would be spending her night with Richard. "Good night, ma petite," he
told her wistfully and hung up.
Jason showed up then. "Do you, ah, need me before I go, Jean-Claude?"
The wolf was dressed in next to nothing and clearly eager to leave for the lupanar. "No," Jean-Claude told him, and
Alone, Jean-Claude decided that he needed to go prowling for a way to feed the ardeur. He opened his senses to his
people and found one of the werewolves was with a human girl somewhere in the Circus. He decided to escalate their passion;
after all, it would be a shame for young Benjamin to be late to the lupanar.
Jean-Claude leaned back in his chair and opened himself more fully to them, gathering in the energy they released when
they finally reached the peak. It was not nearly enough. He sighed as he closed himself to them.
He walked the streets of St. Louis, soaking in the life around him and silently moving among those lives, thrilling
in the knowledge that he was the ultimate predator afoot tonight. He made his way to Guilty Pleasures and took up watch by
It was good to soak in the sexual energy generated all over the club, but it merely made the ardeur desire more.
"More" was walking his way right now, or rather, slinking. She was nearly as tall as he was, clad only in an outfit
of silver straps that somehow managed to cover the obligatory places but nothing more.
Jean-Claude allowed himself to return her smile. This was no human, but a were, capable of holding her own. It was
curious that she was approaching him.
"Master," she greeted him seductively, without a hint of the submissiveness that term implied.
She leaned her hip against the bar, inches away from him and moved closer to whisper, "I can smell your desire. Let
me take care of that for you."
He was upset that he'd been so obvious. And very tempted to take her offer; he could truly feed the ardeur from a shifter
and not risk killing her. He knew he'd remain tense and insatiable until he finally fed it.
What harm would one night be? Anita would never know.
The thought of Anita sobered him. Of course this were must know that the Master of the City was dating Anita Blake.
Was there some power game she was playing that might make her wish to break them apart? He remained sexy and inviting, but
said, "No, thank you."
She continued to play with him, dropping hints about how much she could do for him and inviting him to take her blood.
The teasing game was only making the ardeur harder to deal with, so he told her he needed to be going and left the club.
He returned to the Circus to witness a tense argument between two of his vampires. He let them fight while he watched,
hiding his presence. When it was over and the chain of dominance had been settled, he strode out of the shadows, surprising
"Be sure that your squabbles do not interfere with your duties to me," he told them, making eye contact with first
one and then the other.
"Yes, Master," they agreed. The fact that he'd been able to sneak up on them was a subtle reminder that, no matter
what power struggles occurred lower on the ladder, there would be no such dissension at the top.
By the time everything had been taken care of at the Circus, dawn was rapidly approaching and Jean-Claude retired with
the other vampires to the coffin room.
When Jean-Claude arose the next afternoon, he spent a few hours checking on the status of his city before returning
to his bedroom and calling for Jason.
Jason entered the room smirking. "How did the meeting go, my wolf?" Jean-Claude asked.
"Good," Jason said, then added in a casual voice, "Well, except for a pretty big fight near the end."
"Anita disagreed with some pack decisions Richard made," Jason told him, aware that Jean-Claude would be pleased. "They
had a very public fight. She told him she wouldn't speak to him until he changed his mind."
Jean-Claude nodded, hiding his contentment at the news, and settled down on the bed next to Jason.
Just as Jean-Claude was nearing his neck for breakfast, Jason added in a low voice, "She said when he was ready to
talk, Richard could find her here with you..." Jason gasped in pleasure as Jean-Claude sank fangs into him, stunned at how
nearly orgasmic Jean-Claude's bite was. As his spine bowed upwards, Jason made a vague mental note to give Jean-Claude good
news more often.
Jean-Claude bathed in the life ebbing from Jason, feeling himself become both more human and more vampiric all at once.
Through the blinding need of his hunger, his thoughts trailed after Anita.
When his hunger was sated, Jean-Claude wiped Jason's neck clean and watched as the lycanthrope's healing ability warred
with the anticoagulant in vampire saliva. Jason lay still with his eyes closed, drifting off to sleep.
Jean-Claude stood and left. He walked into the lounge that held the beautiful picture of Asher, Julianna, and himself,
and was greeted by Anita's gun.
Jean-Claude saw that she held a small gun in her left hand, which was aimed at his head, while a larger gun in her
right hand was aimed at Harold, the newest vampire under Jean-Claude's protection.
"Ah, I see that you two have met," Jean-Claude said levelly. Anita had swung a gun towards the door when she heard
someone enter the room and lowered it now that she recognized Jean-Claude.
"Not formally," Anita informed him.
Harold looked confused.
"Harold, please introduce yourself to Ms. Blake, my human servant," Jean-Claude said, with almost no threat in his
Fear flashed through Harold's eyes as he realized he'd picked the wrong human female to mess with. With a glance towards
his master, he bowed low and said, "I am Harold. I am sorry, Ms. Blake, for my rudeness."
"You're lucky you didn't get shot," Jean-Claude told him. "Isn't there somewhere you should be?"
Harold gratefully made his exit, surprised he'd escaped punishment.
Jean-Claude regarded Anita, who was tucking both weapons into holsters hidden somewhere beneath her dark blue jeans
and long-sleeved black shirt. "It is good to see you, ma petite," Jean-Claude said sincerely. His ardeur agreed with him,
suddenly swelling up inside him so that it was difficult to contain. He looked away quickly before she could see his eyes,
which he knew were swollen blue with arousal.
Jean-Claude swallowed his incubus and felt himself return to normal. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit,
ma petite?" he asked as he took a seat on the couch.
"Richard and I had a fight." Anita plopped down on the couch beside him, leaning back into the upholstery.
"I'm sorry," he told her, not in the least bit sincere.
"You are not," she said with a grin, turning her head to meet his gaze.
Jean-Claude allowed a small smile as well. Judging by Anita's reaction, it came across as sexy rather than cute. Jean-Claude
could smell her arousal, and it tugged at the ardeur.
Exercising strict control over the hunger inside him, Jean-Claude leaned closer to her and said, "So, ma petite, we
have no demons or devils to save the world from tonight -- what do you say to a quiet dinner for two?"
"You don't eat," she reminded him.
"Then you shall have to eat for two and allow me to feel it through the marks."
Anita groaned. "The last time I let you order for me so you could taste it through the marks, I gained ten pounds."
"You did no such thing," he responded, changing the comment to something more intimate as he let his gaze roam over
Anita blushed and was about to say something when Asher entered the room. He nodded to Anita in greeting, then moved
to stand before Jean-Claude and spoke rapidly in French.
The only word Anita caught was Jean-Claude's quiet "merde" in response. He turned to Anita and said, "It appears I
was wrong about having no demons or devils to chase tonight, ma petite."
Anita patted a weapon through her clothing and told him to lead the way.
Anita sprinted up the stairs to keep up with the effortless pace Asher, Jean-Claude, and Willie were maintaining. All
that Anita had gleaned was that there was a newly-risen vamp on the loose, untended.
Jean-Claude had demanded an explanation from Willie, who was radiating guilt from every pore.
"We were -- lovers," Willie told Jean-Claude shakily as the vamps ascended the final staircase. "I was going to ask
you for permission to make her a vamp, or ask you to do it yourself..." Willie grimaced as he realized how much trouble he
was in. "I just found out now that she died in a car accident three days ago... I didn't think I had taken enough blood, really
I didn't... but I checked the morgue just in case. That's when I found the dead attendants."
When they reached the outside of the Circus, Jean-Claude and Asher levitated straight up until they were swallowed
by the night. Willie and Anita took her car to the morgue. By the time they reached it, the two master vamps had already discerned
that the new vampire was nowhere in the vicinity.
They were about to spread out and search when Anita stopped Jean-Claude with her palm pushing forcefully against his
chest. "We need to call the cops."
"And have them kill or get killed by a newly-risen vampire?" he returned.
The vamps spread out, leaving Anita little choice but to take her place in the search pattern. As she wandered blocks
away from the morgue, the realization that she was effectively walking bait hit her at the same time that a feral cry shattered
the night. Anita barely pulled her gun hand up in time to pull the trigger on the thing flying at her.
The two rounds exploded through the vamp's head. Anita hadn't changed from her normal ammunition. A newbie vamp could
not possibly have withstood the shots.
The body, now truly dead, fell heavily against Anita, and she struggled to get out from under its weight.
The vamps heard the shots and came racing to her. Jean-Claude and Asher stopped nearby once they realized the danger
to Anita was over.
Anita's eyes met Willie's as he advanced towards the body of his lover.
"Willie --" Anita started.
He shook his head, silencing her. Willie knelt by the corpse.
"You will take care of everything?" Jean-Claude asked Willie neutrally.
Willie nodded and the other vamps turned to leave.
"Willie, I... do you want me to stay -- I can help..." Anita said, visibly upset.
"No, Anita." Willie sighed as he picked up the body and walked in the opposite direction, turning to tell her, "I am
not angry with you. I understand. I just need time..."
Anita nodded and left with Jean-Claude and Asher. The three drove home in silence.
"Ma cherie, you had no choice. She attacked you," Asher offered.
"I could have tried harder not to kill her..."
"Do not blame yourself," Asher told her. "She was Willie's responsibility."
All the while, Jean-Claude had remained silent. Anita suddenly turned to glance at him where he sat in the passenger
seat next to her. "You aren't going to punish Willie, are you?" she asked in disbelief, even as she read the truth in his
Anita became outraged as his silence confirmed her guess. "How could you? He just lost the woman he loved. It wasn't
his fault the girl died in a car accident. It's not as if he made another vamp on purpose!"
"It is the principle of the thing, ma petite," Jean-Claude told her. "Bringing over new vampires without my permission
is subversive. It simply cannot go unpunished."
Anita jerked her car into the vicinity of a parking place and braked roughly. She turned the key and shot out of the
car and into the Circus without waiting for the vampires to catch up.
Anita was rapidly realizing she had no place to stalk off to. But damned if she was going to go home and leave Jean-Claude
free to do some heartless thing to Willie.
Anita turned to face Jean-Claude as he entered the lounge and informed him, "I cannot let you punish Willie; he's under
my protection. You wanna beat him up, you'll have to get through me."
"Ma petite, you are being unreasonable..." Jean-Claude began.
"No, Jean-Claude," she said, advancing toward him, really angry now. "You are being unreasonable. How would you have
felt if Belle Morte punished you the day you lost Julianna?"
It was a low hit, and Anita knew it, but couldn't help making the comparison.
"She has nothing to do with this," he said in quiet anger. "How dare you bring her into this?"
"She has everything to do with this," Anita insisted, closing the distance between them. "Do you think you are the
only one who's ever fallen in love and gotten burned? Are you the only one in this world that ever suffers?"
Jean-Claude's anger made way for the ardeur to seize him. His arms shot out to pull Anita to him, and he kissed her
harshly. He ground his body into hers, wanting blood, wanting sex, wanting to satisfy the ardeur that ran rampant in his veins.
Need rolled over him and caught Anita as well. Shocked at what she was feeling from him and suddenly burning up for
him, she responded and backed him to the wall as she feasted at his mouth.
The shock of his back hitting the cold wall made Jean-Claude realize what he was doing. He pushed Anita away by her
forearms and backed away several paces. "My apologies, ma petite... I was just trying to get your attention..."
He tried desperately to control the ardeur, but every inch of his body was sensitized. He tried to resume the conversation,
though he was still stretching his leather pants to their limit.
"Please listen to me, ma petite. Would you defend any other weak vampire under my control or is it just because you
feel an attachment to Willie that you protect him?" Jean-Claude asked.
Anita was silent.
"You condemn what you do not understand, Anita. Having vampires in my city that are not under my control is dangerous.
Willie's actions were surely accidental, but what if the same thing were to happen to someone else? I cannot set the precedent
of permitting my vampires to 'accidentally' bring others over. Nor can I set the precedent of leniency because of human emotions.
Vampires are not human. We are predators -- you seem to understand that concept well enough when it comes to Richard's pack."
Anita was quiet as she made herself consider what he'd said. She was always counseling Richard to be more ruthless.
When Jean-Claude showed the same business sense, she chastised him.
She was angry to know that it was partially her feeling of guilt that made her upset with Jean-Claude's treatment of
"Jean-Claude," Anita asked as an idea hit her, "What exactly do you have in mind for Willie's punishment?"
"He will be everyone's servant for all his waking hours for one week, beneath even the shape-shifters and lesser vampires
in the Circus."
"That would certainly take his mind off his loss," Anita noted.
Jean-Claude's face was blank as he admitted, "It certainly may have that side-effect."
Anita refused to show Jean-Claude how pleased she was with the decision.
It was past time to leave and head to her warm bed for some much-needed sleep, but Anita hesitated to leave. Had Jean-Claude
truly just been trying to capture her attention earlier?
Something was strange; she's never seen Jean-Claude so full of raw emotion before. Spontaneously, she decided to test
her ideas and moved the short distance between them to give Jean-Claude a parting hug.
The action was so unexpected that the ardeur sprang forward again before Jean-Claude could control it. His arms tightened
around her as she filled his senses, but he restrained himself from any further action.
Desire flooded him; the feel of her body against his was excruciating. Mentally groaning, Jean-Claude suppressed his
incubus violently and roughly withdrew from Anita.
"Jean-Claude?" Anita asked a little breathlessly.
"My apologies, ma petite," he said from his new position at the other end of the room. "I am not myself right now."
"Are you -- hungry?" She asked.
"Not in the way you mean," he answered truthfully. The words and their tone made her shiver.
"Good night, ma petite," Jean-Claude said. Outwardly, he seemed normal again.
Anita was now sure something was wrong. "Good night," she echoed and left.
She found Asher by chance, leaning against a wall outside the Circus, hidden in the shadows.
"Asher," she greeted, then stopped walking as she made a decision. "Can I talk to you?"
"Always, ma cherie," he responded.
She leaned against the wall next to him and tried to explain what she wanted to ask him. "Jean-Claude has been very
tense lately, and not as... reserved. Have you noticed?"
Asher thought back to his exchange with Jean-Claude at the club. How close he'd been to going to him... "Oui, ma cherie."
Anita got the impression she would have to try harder to get information out of Asher. "Do you know why?" she asked.
"Oui," he said softly, his gaze still straight in front of him.
Anita regarded the silent vampire and wondered for a moment if Jean-Claude's mood had anything to do with Asher. As
far as she knew, the two vampires had never renewed their relationship from so long ago. There were so many complications.
Jean-Claude probably thought she would ditch him if he slept with Asher. There was a time when she would have. Now...
Anita's thoughts drifted to her dream of the three of them. Jean-Claude's fantasy had been too close to home for comfort.
Her gaze took in the gorgeous man standing beside her and she swallowed hard.
Asher could sense her desire and was touched by it. It felt wonderful to know that she was so attracted to him, scars
and all. And even better to know that she loved him...
Trying to control her desire, Anita lifted a hand to caress Asher's hair gently. "Can you tell me what is wrong with
"He would be rightfully angry with me if I did, ma cherie." It was Jean-Claude's responsibility to explain the ardeur
to his human servant, not Asher's.
Anita sighed. "I understand, Asher."
She turned to go, and Asher told her quietly, "He misses you, cherie."
"But there's more to it than that," she said, not really a question.
"Good night, Asher."
Anita entered the Circus the next evening, fully armed and seeking Jason or someone else to use as backup.
She nearly bumped into Asher. "Asher!" she said. "Do you know where Jason is? I've got to rescue three werewolves,
while Richard sits around and twiddles his thumbs... Hey, are you busy? I need someone who's good in a fight," she ended with
"I'd be glad to help," he said with a smile, enjoying almost flirting with her. "Where are we going?"
The Circus had been fairly quiet all evening.
Jean-Claude leaned back in his chair and opened himself to the life around him. The humans enjoying the attractions
of the Circus of the Damned were a muddle of pleasure and fear. Beneath the Circus, Jean-Claude could feel the cold power
of the other vamps and the heat of the lycanthropes.
He missed the cool tingle of a certain necromancer's magic against his senses. He had hoped that she would be here
tonight. Just the thought of Anita filled him with warmth and a more intimate kind of heat. Perhaps it was best that she was
"Jean-Claude!" Suddenly the marks to Anita flared open and he could feel her distress. Where was she, and what danger
was she in?
Jean-Claude focused on the marks to answer, but Jason burst into the room. "Jean-Claude!" he called, breathing heavily.
"Not now, Jason!" Jean-Claude said angrily.
"It's -- it's about Asher..." Jason managed. When Jean-Claude turned to him sharply, he delivered his news in a gush.
"Nathaniel just told me that he saw Asher leave with Anita. And that Anita was armed. I think they went to rescue the werewolves
that Loren kidnapped..."
Jean-Claude cut him off with a raised hand and reached for Anita, "Where are you?" he asked her.
A confusing web of the streets she had followed filled his mind. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. But they have Asher?"
"I'm coming," he told her and then strode across the room, telling Jason to follow.
"Jean-Claude, what I need to tell you is that Asher doesn't know what he's getting into. Loren hates vamps. He's on
some sorta quest to kill you all."
"Anita told me that Asher has already been captured," Jean-Claude informed him coolly. "Who is Loren?"
"New bad-ass wereboar in town. He brought a bunch of other boars with him. But a few days ago he kidnapped some of
our wolves. Richard's been negotiating with them, but Anita wanted to go in with guns blazing instead."
"Was Richard's decision to negotiate the source of his argument with Anita?"
"And is this what you described to me only as 'some pack decisions'?"
Jason began to fear for his own neck rather than Anita's and Asher's. He licked his lips.
"We'll discuss this later," Jean-Claude told him, and ascended into the night sky. It was then that Jason realized
he had no idea where the action was taking place. Cursing, he decided to go to Richard's meeting place with Loren and tell
him what had happened.
Jean-Claude arrived at a suburban neighborhood that was being built as the woods were cleared away. The house Anita
had shown him was at the end of an unfinished cul-de-sac, standing alone with a "for sale" sign in the yard. No lights were
lit within miles of the place.
He prepared himself for battle when he saw three shifters running toward him.
His hands were suddenly clamped around one of them, holding him immobile. "Where is Asher?" He asked in a voice full
"Master?" the boy asked in recognition.
Jean-Claude looked at the three shifters and knew instantly they were wolves. His wolves. He released the boy and said,
"So Anita has saved you?"
"Yes - we were tied up in a shed way behind that house," he pointed. "She killed the guy guarding us, but that's when
all the boars showed up and captured your vampire. We helped Anita kill the boars, and she told us to get the hell out of
here. She's in the house now..."
Jean-Claude had been moving toward the house the whole time. "Go," he told the wolves, and entered the house. Two dead
men lay in the front room. Their freshly spilt blood was distracting, but Jean-Claude followed the feel of Anita into another
She saw him and lowered her weapon from his chest. "I don't think he's in here, Jean-Claude. I've checked everywhere."
Jean-Claude reached out to the feeling of Asher and sensed harsh waves of pain somewhere below them. He began to remove
rugs from the floor and found a hatch that opened to reveal a large wooden staircase.
They followed it down to a basement, Anita's gun leading the way.
Anita's last step into the dark room splashed. "I wonder where this water came from," she said, curiously.
She waded into the small basement, the water coming up to her knees. Jean-Claude followed, passing her as he felt Asher's
presence in the adjacent room. They neared the door, which had water streaming out from the cracks between the doorjamb and
Anita readied her gun and asked, "How many are in the room, Jean-Claude?"
"No one, it is only Asher --" his voice trailed off as he realized why he felt such incredible fear from Asher, despite
the fact that he was alone in the room.
"Ma petite..." he whispered, suddenly terrified. He looked down at the water lapping at his boots. It seemed so harmless.
"Mon dieu, Asher is in there," he said, eyes taking in how high up the door the water was leaking out. "Anita, it is
She gasped. "Your boots. Just back up, Jean-Claude. Hurry, so I can open the door!"
Still terrified, Jean-Claude carefully waded back to the stairs and moved to safety.
Anita shot the lock off the heavy metal door and slid the bolt out of the way. She was washed all the way back to the
steps by the wave of water. Choking, she staggered to her feet and ran into the second room.
Asher hung from the ceiling, tied in chains with crosses. He had climbed his way up the chain that suspended him until
he was plastered flat against the ceiling, only his supernatural strength keeping him safe.
The water line on the walls showed that water had been no more than two feet from the ceiling. A hole in the ceiling
was still pouring water into the room.
"Stay put," Anita ordered him, and went to find something to wrap him in so she could safely get him out of the room.
As she came back into view of the stairs, Jean-Claude called to her, "There is nothing in the house, ma petite. I have searched."
"Your boots, Jean-Claude."
He eyed the increased water level worriedly. He reached to take his boots off and stopped just in time. There were
droplets of the blessed water still clinging to the footware. Shakily, he said, "You must undress me, ma petite."
"Asher, hold on!" Anita called and removed the boots. She tested them in the standing water and found the water line
hit just barely below the top of the boots. Thank goodness for Jean-Claude's sense of fashion.
Asher had lowered himself some from his uncomfortable position, but could not touch the links of chain either containing
dangling crosses or dripping from the water. Anita managed to tie his legs into Jean-Claude's boots and help him stand.
The roar of water falling from the pipe in the ceiling spurred them on as Asher slowly glided his way through the water
that lapped an inch from his bare skin. Anita was sure she would not have been capable of such smooth movement.
They'd barely cleared that room when noise from the stairwell made them freeze. Jean-Claude was grappling with the
biggest and ugliest shifter Anita had ever seen. Tusks rose from its face on either side of a mouth of enormous teeth. The
rest was a blur of fur. Jean-Claude was struggling both to keep the were from killing him and keep both their bodies from
falling the short distance to the water below.
Anita pointed to the couch they were passing and Asher climbed to stand on it, now only ankle-deep in the dangerous
water. Anita could wade faster now that ripples wouldn't send acid pouring down Asher's boots. The lifeless body of the boar
was laying across the bottom several steps, but Jean-Claude seemed to be turning to meet a new foe.
Finally in view of the steps, Anita saw countless wereboars descending towards them. She pulled the Browning and emptied
the clip into the mass of were. Her lucky head shots took out several, and only Jean-Claude's speed enabled him to stop them
from crashing into the deadly lake in the basement and splashing Asher.
Fighting on stairs was beyond difficult, but the two of them managed to take out the seeming army of boars. Anita felt
her entire side rip open as a razor claw caught her off guard. She was backed against the wall and completely out of ammo.
Jean-Claude broke the boar's neck before her life had time to flash before her eyes.
Suddenly, there were no moving bad guys. The sickly scent of blood and guts pervaded the room. Anita found there were
so many corpses she couldn't even move.
Jean-Claude dragged the bodies up the stairs as Anita carefully made her way downwards, holding her side. Without disturbing
the water she told Asher it was okay to come over.
He glided through the water slowly and precisely to safety.
Once he was on the stairs, Anita removed his boots, then took Jean-Claude's shirt and tied it around her middle to
hold the wound closed.
She and the two barefoot vampires left the house, although Asher and Jean-Claude visibly reacted as they walked through
the blood-filled battleground the house had become.
Anita was almost disappointed that no harm awaited them outside. The night seemed normal enough.
"We need to go take out this son of a bitch," she told Jean-Claude as they headed towards Anita's car, parked off the
road over a mile away. "Richard's probably still meeting with him, trying to talk politics..." the comment trailed off as
a wave of pain passed over her.
"Ma petite, we shall let Richard deal with Loren and whatever boars may be left. Surely someone in the pack is capable
of violence to defend themselves?"
Anita sighed and consented, limping on towards the car alone, as neither of the boys could touch her -- she might as
well be covered in acid. She sat alone in the back of the car as Jean-Claude drove them to the Circus.
"Wow, what happened to you guys?" Jason asked as he took in the barefoot vampires and Jean-Claude's bare chest. He
cringed as Jean-Claude's unamused gaze fell upon him. "Uh, we dealt with all the wereboars at the meeting. Richard killed
"Jason will carry you downstairs, ma petite," Jean-Claude told Anita as she managed to roll out of the car.
"I'm fine," she said between clenched teeth and made her own way down the stairs and to a shower. Jason followed as
if to help.
"Out," she told him as she removed the mess that was Jean-Claude's shirt.
"I've got first aid training," he deadpanned, leaning provocatively against the sink.
"Good," she told him. "You're gonna need some first aid, if you aren't out of here in five seconds."
He wisely left.
Anita showered, realizing how ironic it was that she was washing herself to be rid of something holy.
Her side hurt like a bitch, but she could literally feel it healing. If the wound had been from a knife rather than
a shifter's claw, she'd probably be healed by now.
She heard a knock on the door and someone calling to her. She shut off the shower.
"It's your nurse!" came the voice.
"Go away, Jason."
"No, really. I've got bandages..."
She let him open the door enough to set the first aid kit down, then got rid of him. She dressed the wound, then wrapped
a towel around the rest of her, wondering what to do about clothing. She began to brush out her hair.
There was another knock at the door. "Jason --" she began, annoyed.
"It is I, ma petite," came Jean-Claude's sex-laden voice.
She had the feeling she would have been safer with Jason. At least she trusted herself with Jason. "Come in," she said
The door opened and Jean-Claude entered, having completely changed his outfit. He wore a black silk shirt completely
open in the front but tucked into his tight black leather pants. His hair was damp from showering.
He looked extremely inviting. Especially since his gaze was glued to the bare skin revealed above her towel. He was
bearing clothing that was definitely not hers. She wondered how he managed to hand her the lingerie without any embarrassment.
Her own face was bright red as she accepted the silky garments.
Jean-Claude then handed her a nightgown that looked nearly sheer, and which had been made with approximately half the
"I might have a fresh set of workout clothes in the car," she told him, eyeing the nightgown dubiously.
"You are going to bed, not to the gym, ma petite." The way he said it suggested she might get a workout nonetheless.
"How's Asher?" she asked.
She could have sworn she saw pain cross his beautiful face. Jean-Claude turned to leave, saying only, "Get dressed,
Anita dressed quickly and left in search of Jean-Claude, feeling worse than naked as she walked through the halls in
the skimpy clothing. He could have brought her a bathrobe at least...
She found Jean-Claude standing outside Asher's bedroom, staring at the door. "Go talk to him," she told him.
He turned to her, and she was struck by how unbelievably sexy he looked. And this was with no vampire mind tricks.
The sight twisted at her insides.
Jean-Claude could smell her desire, and it was too much. He couldn't believe she was standing next to him in the clothes
he'd bought for her. She was a dream come true. A very good dream come true. He closed his eyes and said, "I will if you come
She nodded and knocked on Asher's door. Jean-Claude must have heard a response, because he pulled the door open, and
Asher was sitting on the carpeted floor with his back against the wall and his knees pulled up to his chest.
He wore only a towel, knotted at his waist. It was the most Anita had ever seen of his scars. Even his hair was not
covering his face; it fell damply down his back.
He was staring blankly in front of him, oblivious to their presence. Her heart went out to him, and she wondered what
it must have been like to face a death by holy water for a second time.
"Asher?" Anita asked tentatively, standing in front of him with Jean-Claude, whose face revealed no emotion whatsoever.
He gave no notice that he'd heard her, or knew she existed. She continued, "We just wanted to see if you were okay.
I don't know how you must have felt in there, but it couldn't have been easy to face that again..."
Anita wasn't sure what else to say, so she stopped speaking. With no sign from Asher, she turned to Jean-Claude to
see if they should go.
"He told me he hated vampires," Asher said, voice completely neutral. "He was babbling about his sister. Something
happened to his sister because of a vampire..."
Asher trailed off, and Anita told him firmly, "Loren's dead, Asher."
Asher hardly heard her. "His people bound me and started the water. He said he'd been waiting for a long time to see
how this new idea of his would work -- he had a whole septic tank full of holy water... then he left to meet Richard."
He moved his head to look at Jean-Claude. "The water. It brought it all back... I heard Julianna screaming. I felt
my skin melting. I felt her death... do you know what it is like, Jean-Claude, to feel your human servant die?"
Jean-Claude couldn't tear his gaze away. He'd never felt as strongly as he did now. "Asher..." he said, his voice hoarse
"But most of all, I felt Death. I've never been so afraid for my own survival before." Asher turned away, as if ashamed.
Anita moved to sit down next to him. "It's over, Asher," she said firmly.
Jean-Claude watched as Anita lightly traced over Asher's scarred cheek, making him turn to face her. As their eyes
met, the moment became intense.
Anita could feel herself being pulled to Asher, and she met his inviting lips gently. That first light touch ignited
them both, and her hands found his face, even as his wrapped around her waist.
They kissed more passionately. Anita broke away and moved her lips down his skin, both scarred and smooth, to taste
When her head moved out of his line of vision, Asher was suddenly staring into the sapphire gaze of Jean-Claude, whose
body was ringing with tension as he struggled to remain standing still.
"Mon amour," Asher breathed, willing Jean-Claude to come to him.
Jean-Claude sank to his knees in the plush carpet and leaned over Anita to meet Asher's lips. The contact, so long
denied, brought back all the suppressed desire.
The ardeur poured through the three of them, flooding their bodies with sensation. Anita tore Asher's towel from him,
even as she met Jean-Claude's lips for a kiss full of need. Their minds were linked; they could feel each other's need, feel
what their bodies were doing to each other.
Needing to breathe, Anita tore her lips from Jean-Claude's and turned to the nude Asher. She trailed her fingers down
his stomach and wrapped her hand around him, meeting only velvet smoothness. Jean-Claude pulled what little clothing she wore
from her body and kicked off his boots.
Anita was attacking Asher's entire body with hands, breasts, and mouth. Through the veil of pleasure that clouded his
head, Asher pulled Jean-Claude to him and ripped away the smooth black shirt, then his hands descended to remove the skin-tight
Jean-Claude helped him, then gasped in pleasure when he felt Asher's fingers clench around him.
Asher was laying flat on his back with his head thrown back. Anita made her way back up his body until she was stretched
flat against him, then rolled to her side and turned to Jean-Claude.
Jean-Claude caressed her neck with his tongue, wanting so badly to feed. He kept reminding himself that Anita had lost
Jean-Claude managed to move past her neck and assaulted the rest of her torso with his mouth. Her hand had replaced
Asher's and was now stroking Jean-Claude in agonizing slowness. Jean-Claude's hands reached to cup Asher, and both vampires
moaned at the contact.
The ardeur was a full-blown hurricane of energy around them. Each touch escalated the power in a way they'd never thought
possible. Three hearts raced as the energy swept them away.
Asher's hand made its way down Anita's body purposefully, but he found Jean-Claude was already there. He let Jean-Claude
thrust fingers into her as his own fingers moved gently over the sensitive skin.
Anita was screaming in orgasm beneath them. Jean-Claude removed his fingers and Asher entered her, but his body was
behind her, spooned tightly against her back. Jean-Claude pressed his length against her smooth stomach and wrapped his arms
around them both.
The three moved in one rhythm, groaning together, and feeling their passion escalate.
Anita's hands threaded through Jean-Claude's gorgeous hair, trailed over his back, then clenched his backside to her,
feeling him slide hard against her stomach.
Jean-Claude ground into her and met Asher's eyes over her shoulder.
Anita was writhing in need as Asher's movement inside her brought her to the brink. Asher lowered his lips to her shoulder
and kissed her there fully.
"Asher, Jean-Claude, please..." she moaned, speaking for the first time since everything had started.
Asher bit down on her neck, sending passion exploding through each of them. Jean-Claude lowered fangs into her other
shoulder as the three of them convulsed into orgasm.
They lay on the carpet bathed in sweat. Both Asher and Anita had collapsed into sleep.
Jean-Claude stretched his entire body in one fluid movement, luxuriating in the feeling that the ardeur was finally
He could feel the dawn approaching. It was too late for him and Asher to leave; hopefully Anita would not be too upset
when she awakened later...
As Jean-Claude felt the dawn, the inevitable fear seized him, and just this once he embraced it. He closed his eyes
and tightened his grip on his two lovers.