PURPLE PASSIONS

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green-eyed monster

Rated R
 
A jealous Jean-Claude blames Richard's jealousy for making Anita jealous of Paris (who is jealous of Anita) and Micah blames Asher for the whole mess for being jealous of him and Jean-Claude.  (Takes place some time after ID)
 
Characters and situations of the Anitaverse are property of author Laurell K. Hamilton.  This fic was written for entertainment purposes only and not monetary profit.
 
 

 

 

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Chapter One

The night started innocently enough. Or not. Looking back now, Jean-Claude realized there had been nothing innocent about it since he’d first opened his eyes.

*****

Upon waking, Jean-Claude’s mind zeroed in on the warm weight pressed tightly against his bare back. The heat radiating from it was so intense, at first it felt uncomfortable next to his cold skin. He shifted slightly. The body next to him stirred as well and another revelation struck. The body belonged to a woman. Not only was she incredibly warm and soft and well-endowed, she was completely naked beneath his sheets.

Knowingly, Jean-Claude smiled ear to ear. Anita must have missed him so much she returned from her trip to Michigan after only a few days away. To surprise him, she must have crawled into his bed while he and Asher slept and wedged herself between them. For a moment it all seemed too good to be true. He could think of no other way he’d rather wake at night than to find Anita curled around him, all warm and willing in his bed. Perhaps the saying was true. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Closing his eyes briefly, the master vampire whispered a breathless “thank you” to whatever deity was responsible for fulfilling his waking dream, and then he rolled over, simultaneously reaching out for his lover, ready to devour her in more ways than one.

But the unnaturally red hair fanning around the unfamiliar face of a startlingly blue-eyed beauty shocked Jean-Claude into completely immobility. His eyes widened in disbelief as his mind scrambled to re-evaluate what had really happened sometime during the course of the day.

After a few moments, Jean-Claude realized he couldn’t even begin to fathom why or how this strange woman came to be lying next to him in bed. He sat up abruptly, his slippery silk sheet pooling around his loins making him aware of his own nudity. He opened his mouth to speak, tucking the glossy fabric tightly around his hips, but the woman smiled brightly and spoke first.

“Hello Master,” she said in a sultry, whiskey voice.

Jean-Claude raised his brow, intrigued. “…Master?” No one addressed him formerly like that. When they did, it always took him by surprise. He peered into the woman’s eyes curiously and knew at once, this was no ordinary woman. There was a power about her. It wasn’t immediately noticeable because it wasn’t very strong, but Jean-Claude sensed it now. It explained a lot. She was a lycanthrope.

“Or would you prefer I call you simply Jean-Claude?” the woman responded. “Jason told me you weren’t really into titles. Especially from people you’re intimate with.”

Her insinuating phrasing pricked Jean-Claude’s self-consciousness again. He scooted away from the woman to the edge of the mattress, trying to keep the sheets around him without pulling them any further off of her.

“Who--?” Jean-Claude began to ask, but his question was choked off when the lycanthrope slid across the mattress after him.

“I’m Paris. I’m going to be your pomme de sang while Jason is gone. You asked Richard to send you someone and I volunteered. I was honored to.”

Jean-Claude closed his eyes, mentally swearing at the Ulfric and his pettiness. Yes, Jean-Claude had approached him asking if there was anyone in the pack willing to step in for Jason while the young wolf accompanied Anita across state lines. After all, Jean-Claude’s “court” had increased and there were more vampires to feed. It seemed only right to provide them with a substitute pomme for the two and a half weeks Jason would be away instead of sending them out onto the streets every night. No, Jean-Claude had not specified a male substitute, but Richard should have known. The Ulfric knew Anita as well as anyone. She wouldn’t stand for this. Not in the least.

What was worse was perhaps finding out Jason apparently knew Paris was replacing him. He had clearly spoken with her before his departure. Yet he hadn’t thought to mention her to Jean-Claude? Surely he knew the mischief this would cause. Jean-Claude felt betrayed by Jason’s inappropriate discretion. The master vampire made a mental note to have words with his pomme de sang upon his return.

Paris placed her hand on Jean-Claude’s shoulder and rubbed her cheek along his arm like an overly affectionate cat. It pulled the vampire out of his thoughts and back to the here and now.

“I’m ready whenever you are, Master,” Paris cooed, pushing her hair from the side of her neck. “As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to this.” Her eyes glinted up at Jean-Claude with pure raw seduction.

“I am not ready,” Jean-Claude stated flatly, pulling away from the ardent werewolf. “I have to bathe first.” It was all he could think of that sounded even remotely plausible. He was off the bed now, but still trapped beside it because of the sheet around his hips.

Undaunted, Paris rose from the bed in all her naked glory and sidled up to Jean-Claude. She brazenly wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest.

“Of course. Jason told me you were fastidious about cleanliness,” she said with a smile. “For a Frenchman.” She giggled.

Jean-Claude peeled her off of him and sat her back on the bed, covering her with the corner of the sheet as much as he could.

“Wait here,” the vampire replied through slightly clenched teeth. Yes, he and Jason would definitely have words.

He turned towards the master bathroom and thought wistfully of his robe hanging on the back of the door. Frowning, Jean-Claude briefly contemplated taking the sheet with him into the bathroom, but then he peered across the bed at Asher who had yet to wake. Jean-Claude knew that underneath the sheet, Asher was also naked. If he took the sheet with him, he’d leave Asher completely exposed and his friend was much too self-conscious to appreciate that considering there was a strange naked woman in the room.

Jean-Claude sighed heavily in frustration. He could send Paris to fetch his robe, but he was certain he didn’t want to have to watch her sashay across the room. His hungers were burning his insides as it was, twisting his needs into a physical ache. After all, he hadn’t fed since Jason left, choosing to offer his remaining blood sources to his Kiss instead. But now, he was feeling his deprivation keenly. If the circumstances were at all different, Jason’s substitute couldn’t have come at a better time. No, he definitely did not want her to move.

Dragging his hand through his hair in resignation, Jean-Claude released the sheet and let it slip from his body, fully aware he‘d be giving the werewolf a completely un-obscured view of himself by doing so.

As expected, Paris’ big blue eyes widened and a sly grin turned up the corners of her bright red mouth in apparent appreciation. Despite her attempt to be subtle, Jean-Claude had been appraised before by beings far less transparent than Paris and he could well decipher the eager hunger in her modest expression. However, her lust empowered him to a degree of nonchalance. For a moment, he stood before her, feeding from the glazed look in her eyes, then he gestured at Asher, still in the grip of death’s sleep.

“You are not to touch him,” Jean-Claude ordered. “Do you understand?”

The light in Paris’ eyes dimmed slightly. She nodded readily.

Jean-Claude turned on his heel and stalked out of the bedroom, consciously trying to alter his normally suggestive gait into something more mechanical, but he could still feel the weight of her gaze follow him all the way to the bathroom.

*****

Chapter Two

Jean-Claude was tying up the collar of his shirt when Asher all but blew through the dressing room door, looking both agitated and flustered. He was clutching the thick lapels of his robe around his throat with misplaced modesty. He darted several quick glances behind him as if he feared pursuit, but then his lightening-blue eyes fixed on Jean-Claude.

“Who is that?” he demanded, flinging an arm in the general direction of the bedroom from which he‘d obviously just fled.

“That,” Jean-Claude began, pulling on a jacket, “belongs to Monsieur Zeeman. That was his idea of a substitute for Jason. Her name is Paris.”

Asher turned and faced the bedroom again as if he could see through the walls at the contents within. “She was in the bed with me when I woke.”

Jean-Claude frowned slightly. “I told her not to touch you. Did she?”

With a subtle shrug, Asher focused his attention back on Jean-Claude. “It wouldn’t have mattered if she had. I only now just woke. Her presence alone was violation enough.”

“I am sorry, mon ami. I should have removed her to another room. I wasn’t thinking.”

Asher nodded, seemingly becoming aware that Jean-Claude had suffered the same fate earlier and had been equally put off by it. “It is just that, if I’m going to be violated, I would rather be aware of it.” He relaxed his grip on the neckline of his robe and leaned against the doorframe. Lowering his voice, Asher’s eyes took on an interested gleam. “What are you going to do about her?”

“Do?” Jean-Claude asked in surprise. To him the answer should have been obvious. “I’m returning her to Richard. What other option do I have?”

Asher crossed his arms over his chest. “On what grounds? He‘ll want to know.”

Jean-Claude stared up at Asher accusingly. “How can you ask that? We cannot keep her. We cannot use her. It is out of the question.”

Sighing softly, Asher reached over and brushed his hand over Jean-Claude’s shoulder as if to dust him off. “What are you going to tell her?”

“Her? Who?” Of course Asher would be concerned about Anita finding out about this as much as he was.

“Paris, mon ami,” Asher clarified. “She will think she did something wrong, and if you return her to Richard you will not only be rejecting her, you will more than likely disgrace her in the eyes of her pack. Play your politics, Jean-Claude. There is a right way and a wrong way to resolve this…situation.”

Jean-Claude closed his eyes momentarily. Asher was right. Returning Paris to Richard without due cause would be politically incorrect and even though Jean-Claude believed risking Anita’s wrath was cause enough not to use Paris, deep down, he knew such an excuse would be unacceptable in the eyes of the lukoi. Surely Richard knew this. He knew Jean-Claude wouldn’t be able to accept Paris’ services and surely he knew there’d be nothing Jean-Claude could do about it.

“Richard is up to his old tricks,” the master vampire grumbled, growling the Ulfric’s name.

He should have seen something like this coming. Even on the night Anita had taken them both into her bed, Richard had been petty and possessive, refusing to let Jean-Claude feed from him.

For an instant, Jean-Claude felt trapped and defeated. He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly through his teeth, and then he faced Asher with newfound resolve. “I simply will not play into this. This has nothing to do with protocol and procedure. He knows this as well as I do.”

Asher’s hand went to Jean-Claude’s face. He cupped his chin in his palm, smoothing the pad of his thumb across Jean-Claude’s cheek. “I wish you well then,” he offered.

Merci,” Jean-Claude whispered. “I shall return within the hour.”

Asher dropped his hand and turned to leave, but then stopped before stepping outside the room. “In the meantime, mon ami, what do you propose we do?”

Jean-Claude raised his brow inquiringly. “Do?”

“For blood.” Asher licked his lips at the thought.

Jean-Claude’s eyes widened slightly. “I hope you are not suggesting--”

Now Asher looked frustrated. “Why not? She is already here. And willing…. And she has already seen me.” He gestured down the length of his body with his hand clearly implying Paris had gotten an eyeful of Asher earlier as well. “I don’t think she would mind if I fed from her.”

Shaking his head, Jean-Claude put his hands on his hips. “I understand your reasoning, but I cannot permit it.”

Asher scowled at his friend. “Two states away and Anita’s misgivings still intimidate you as if they were the written law,” he said, tossing his long blonde hair over his shoulder with a petulant jerk of his head. “Anita would understand our predicament. She has the same needs we have.”

Jean-Claude narrowed his eyes and peered down his nose at Asher. “My devotion to Anita is not from intimidation, Asher. It stems from love. I will not betray her trust in me over something like this. It took me too long to earn it.”

Asher appeared unfazed by Jean-Claude’s argument. “Something like this? You say that as if seeking sustenance to survive and thrive be a trivial thing. Perhaps our fair Anita prefers us withered and starved to engaging in necessary infidelity. Mon dieu, Jean-Claude, it‘s not as though we are being promiscuous in her absence. We need blood.”

For a moment, Jean-Claude considered it. If Asher wished to use Paris, why shouldn’t he? In all truth, the matter of Asher’s monogamy had never come up in conversation. There was no reason to assume Anita required such a thing from him just because they had become intimate. She certainly didn’t require such exclusivity from Richard, and Jean-Claude was well aware she was intimate with him again. Then, maybe none of this had anything to do with being monogamous. Asher was right. This was just about feeding.

“Very well,” Jean-Claude announced with a certainty that he didn’t quite feel. “Do what you will. There is no reason to deny you her services.” He put his hand over his empty stomach and frowned.

Asher offered Jean-Claude a slight bow and slipped out of the dressing room.

Jean-Claude sat down on the bench in front of his wardrobe to wait. Inside his mind brimmed with a touch of the old jealousy as he pondered Anita’s on again, off again relationship with Richard Zeeman. Anita had always treated Richard differently from him. Richard was given his own set of her rules from the beginning and Anita always seemed to tolerate a lot more of the Ulfric‘s shortcomings than she did of Jean-Claude‘s. Jean-Claude existed night after night with the fear of making even one mistake--as it seemed only one mistake would be enough to justify Anita leaving him.

Sighing, Jean-Claude realized he was being juvenile indulging in such thoughts. In time, he had been amply rewarded for his unwavering devotion, and Anita’s love had grown for him over the course of the years. Jean-Claude did not doubt that Anita loved Richard too, but he also knew her feelings for the Ulfric did not compare to her feelings for him. At least he hoped they did not.

Still the doubt lingers, Jean-Claude realized distastefully. He rose from the bench and paced the length of the dressing room. He liked to think he and Anita had reached the point where one mistake wouldn’t mean the end of the love they shared. In an emotional sense anyway, as despite everything, they were forever metaphysically bound by the marks. But in the end, he truly could not be sure.

That settled it. The woman was going back to Richard, political protocol be damned. Jean-Claude was not going to let the Ulfric win this round. Causing friction between the vampire and Anita was surely Richard’s motivation in this and Jean-Claude decided he’d rather starve himself than give Richard what he wanted.

Jean-Claude peered in the direction of the bedroom. Surely Asher had had his fill by now. Opening the door slowly, the master vampire looked out, cocking his head to hear any telltale sounds. There was nothing.

Coming into the bedroom however, Jean-Claude found Asher still engaged in feeding, his long nude body draped over the woman’s across the bed. His face was buried in her neck, veiled by his hair and hers, their curls tangled in much the same way their bodies were. Her legs were entwined tightly around Asher’s thighs and her hands roved the small of his back with apparent blissful abandon. Her breathing was forcefully audible and erotically toned, and when Asher pushed his hips against her, he elicited the occasional throaty moan from her as well.

The sight stopped Jean-Claude in his tracks and the ardeur flared inside him with an intensity he hadn’t felt in a very long time. It told him he needed to feed both his hungers soon or his control would only worsen. For now, the hunger pangs were still manageable and he tamped them down with a fierce determination.

Asher raised his head as Jean-Claude drew near. He glanced up at him and passed his tongue over his teeth to clean the blood from them. “Five more minutes, I promise.”

“Did you take her mind?“ Jean-Claude asked and frowned, fighting off the distraction of Asher’s pumping hips. To Jean-Claude’s knowledge, no other woman besides Anita had ever given herself willingly to Asher since he had been tortured. If Asher had be-spelled Paris, she would need time to recover, which would only delay things further. On the other hand… “Is this without her conscious consent?”

Asher flashed him another smile. “She was lying on the bed, beckoning to me, with her legs wide open.” He paused and shook his head. “If that is not consent enough for a man, then I don’t know what is.”

At that very moment, Paris climaxed, her body spasming wildly beneath Asher, her pants of pleasure reverberating throughout the bedroom and echoing in Jean-Claude’s mind long after she quieted. In seconds she drifted off to sleep, a genuinely happy smile fixed on her flushed face.

Once satiated as well, Asher rolled off the werewolf with a contented moan. “I am sorry, mon ami,” he panted. “I saw her there and I just had to have her. Merde, I don’t know what came over me.“

Jean-Claude subtly averted his eyes from Asher‘s nudity to the woman beside him spread-eagled on the bed. “I can think of a few things…. Help me get her dressed,” the master vampire began, resorting to closing his eyes to keep the images of Asher’s rose-tinged skin out of his mind. He could just imagine how warm he must be to the touch now. He could also imagine that warmth covering his still very cold body, pressing deeper inside him with every forceful thrust of Asher’s shapely hips. Snapping his eyes open, Jean-Claude stepped away from the bed and shot Asher a clear look of accusation. “You need to get dressed as well!”

Pulling on his robe, Asher looked back at Jean-Claude and pretended to pout. “Are you certain we can’t keep her? It is only temporary, cheri.” He reached over and brushed a stray lock of hair from Paris’ eyes. “The sex was refreshingly meaningless.”

Jean-Claude shook his head. “I cannot believe I’m hearing this from you of all people,” he rumbled. “You who rejected every lover I sent you. What did she say to you to win you over so quickly?” If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear Asher had been the one be-spelled.

Asher sat up and shrugged. “It was what she didn’t say,” he said flatly.

In near desperation, the master vampire began looking around the room, but Jean-Claude quickly realized Paris’ clothes were nowhere to be found. He faced Asher again.

“Where are her clothes?”

“Why are you asking me that?” Asher replied. “You woke before I did.”

“She was already naked when I woke.” He paused, thinking. “How long has she been here? She‘s clearly made herself right at home.”

Asher slid off the bed to help Jean-Claude find the missing garments. “Again, I do not know, mon ami. But you and I are both very aware the wolves tend to be quite comfortable in their skin.”

“Which means her clothing could be anywhere, if she wore any here at all,” Jean-Claude sighed. “Forget it. I’ll put her in one of Anita’s dresses. They’re about the same size. I don’t want to waste anymore time. The sooner I return her to Richard, the better.”

Jean-Claude retreated to the adjoining room in which Anita kept a few spare things and some clothes. Searching through the closet, Jean-Claude was confronted with mostly lingerie and cocktail dresses. He would have to make sure Anita kept more modest-looking clothing here in the future, though he hoped with all his heart he would never have to utilize them.

Finally settling on a black sleeveless dress with an over-lapping bodice, the master vampire carried his prize along with a pair of Anita’s shoes and an unopened package of stockings into the bedroom. He tossed them onto the bed at the slumbering werewolf’s bare feet.

“Are you taking her out to dinner now?” Asher inquired facetiously, gesturing at the dress. He grabbed Paris’ arm and hauled her into a sitting position on the bed.

Jean-Claude shot him a sideways glance. “It was the most conservative one I could find,” he protested, pulling the dress over Paris’ lolling head. She smiled on, clearly oblivious to anything but her long-burning afterglow.

“Wake up, cherie,” Asher whispered, patting her cheek gently as Jean-Claude zipped the back of the dress. “It is time to go.”

“Go?” Paris answered muzzily. She opened her eyes slowly and fixed them on Asher. Then she smiled seductively. “Are you going to take me to the moon again?”

Asher grinned back at her, but then noticed Jean-Claude glaring at him out of the corner of his eye and his smile quickly faded. Asher cleared his throat self-consciously. “Non, unfortunately. You are going to have to leave now.”

“Leave?” Paris asked, her eyes widening unevenly as if she were struggling against the effects of Asher’s power over her. “Where am I going?” She turned her attention to Jean-Claude. “Don’t you want to use me first?”

Jean-Claude’s face became a vacant mask. “I certainly appreciate your most generous offer, but it is simply not to be, Mademoiselle. I am returning you to your pack. I will assure your master you did nothing wrong. No harm will befall you.”

Not that he really believed Richard would punish her, but knowing she was unaware of her Ulfric’s personal vendetta towards Jean-Claude, he could see where she might think he would.

Frowning deeply, Paris faced Asher once more as if hoping he would protest on her behalf. “I don’t understand. Don‘t you get a say in this? Aren‘t you one of the head honchos around here?”

Asher shook his head, looking to Jean-Claude for clarification. “A head what?”

Jean-Claude sighed. “Someone in charge.”

Asher faced Paris again. “I’m his second-in-command, so non, final decisions are not up to me. I only get to make suggestions.” Asher frowned at the resulting look on Paris’ face. He leaned closer to Jean-Claude and whispered in his ear, “I think I just lost my appeal in her eyes.”

Jean-Claude pushed on. “There is nothing to understand,” he told Paris, taking hold of her wrist and pulling her to her feet. “Come with me now. I’ll escort you to the Lunatic Café. There is something I wish to discuss with your master before it gets too late.” He was thinking about his control simply heading out the window if he didn’t properly feed soon.

“Jean-Claude?” Asher hailed, rising from the bed to retrieve his hastily discarded robe. “May I speak with you a moment?” He turned and strolled out of the bedroom and into the hallway, motioning for Jean-Claude to follow.

Jean-Claude pointed at the stockings and shoes. “Finish dressing. I’ll be right back.” He quickly glided after Asher and closed the door behind him. When Asher pulled him aside, Jean-Claude asked, “What is it?”

Asher sighed. “Your power is not exactly where it needs to be if you’re going to be confronting the wolves, mon ami. Are you certain you are up to this? I could come with you--”

“I am fine, Asher. Truly,” Jean-Claude responded. “And I’d like to deal with this matter as quickly and quietly as possible. I’d rather not have an entourage with me. No fanfares or trumpets. Richard finds me pretentious enough. In fact, I’m not even taking the car. It would draw too much unwanted attention. I‘m going incognito.”

“You‘re going to draw attention to yourself no matter what,” Asher protested. “I don’t like the idea of you out there alone and unprotected.”

Jean-Claude disagreed. “Not to worry,” he assured him. “We’ll cut through the back alleys and side streets. Anyone seeing us won’t give us a second thought.”

Conceding finally with a frustrated-sounding sigh, Asher turned and led the way back into the bedroom. Paris had finished dressing and was standing beside the bed, her arms folded across her chest, unconsciously amplifying her already bountiful cleavage.

“She’ll need a coat,” Jean-Claude murmured to Asher. He noticed Asher’s eyes had zeroed in on the same part of Paris’ anatomy his had.

“I’ll give her one of my jackets,” Asher offered and quickly exited the room.

Paris looked decidedly unhappy, despite her continuing afterglow. “I don’t understand any of this,” she said, shaking her head. “Richard thought you’d be well-pleased with me, but you haven’t even tried me out.”

Seeking to console her, Jean-Claude went to her and took her hand in his. “To be honest, Mademoiselle, this has little to do with you personally. Offering you was most generous of your Ulfric, almost too generous.” He forced himself to smile.

Paris seemed to relax a little. She smiled back at the vampire and raised her face to his. “Your hands are so cold. I would have never expected that from the Master of the City. It’s been days for you, hasn’t it? Why don’t you feed?” She pulled out of Jean-Claude’s grasp and held up her wrist. “It’s what I’m here for. It’s what I want.”

For a split second, the temptation rose, but when Asher’s footsteps sounded in the hall, it just as quickly dissipated. Resolutely, Jean-Claude shook his head, stepping away from the werewolf as he did. “It simply would not be…prudent of me.”

“He is limited as to who he can partake of in any given circumstance,” Asher explained, entering the bedroom. He carried one of his more casual-looking jackets. It was the same jacket Asher had worn to dinner the night before Anita left.

Jean-Claude took it from him and held it up to help Paris into it. It was extremely large on her, but it covered her the way he hoped.

“Why is that?” Paris asked Jean-Claude, apparently still mulling over Asher’s words. “You’re the Master of the City. You can have anyone you want.” Then the light of realization seemed to dawn in her eyes. “Oh, I get it. It’s because of…her.”

Jean-Claude frowned, shooting Asher a look of disapproval. “It is my choice,” he went on quietly. “I am aware of her preferences and try to abide by them because I am devoted to her. That is all.”

Paris busied herself rolling up the sleeves on the jacket to free her hands. “What is it with her anyway?” she continued. “I know she’s powerful, but why does every man in St. Louis fall at her feet? Why do they let her walk all over them and then come back for more? She doesn’t know how to treat a man right. She doesn’t know how to give them what they really need. I guess she’s pretty, but seriously, I’ve got more going for me in the looks department. I’d be better for Richard than she would.” She leaned closer to Jean-Claude. “I’d be better for you too.”

Placing his hands on his hips, Jean-Claude shifted his weight to one leg, striking a petulant pose. “Are you done?” he asked, more than ready to be rid of this woman now. The last thing he wanted was to listen to her berate Anita for the next two and half weeks.

Blowing her breath out between her teeth, Paris threw up her arms in resignation. “In other words, not a chance, huh? Fine. Let’s go.” She stormed out of the bedroom and slammed the door behind her.

Asher peered over at Jean-Claude. “Women are the most exquisite creatures,” he said, sounding wistful. “To win one’s heart is to surely be granted the key to true happiness. But add a touch of jealousy to the mix, and that delicate, exquisite creature can turn into a real monster. I can understand why you seek to avoid confronting it on all levels.”

Jean-Claude had to smile. “The green-eyed monster.”

Asher laughed. “Oui.” He leaned over and gave Jean-Claude a quick affectionate peck on the cheek. “Bon chance avec Richard, mon ami.”

Jean-Claude turned to go. “Considering the temper I am in tonight, you’d do better wishing him luck with me,” he replied and stalked after Paris.

*****

Chapter Three

Paris trailed after Jean-Claude, clearly reluctant to return to her pack. It became obvious to Jean-Claude that she had seen an opportunity with him she had not been given with Richard and the lukoi. Jean-Claude knew she was more than capable of matching his stride, but chose not to, simply to prolong their journey and seemingly vex him. Jean-Claude tried to ignore her constant protests, and her complaints about the shoes she was wearing, but when she flopped onto a bus stop bench and burst into tears, Jean-Claude realized her unhappiness would have to be addressed.

He returned to her, feeling somewhat shamed by his callousness. After all, none of this was really her fault and when she looked up at him tearfully and called him a heartless sonofabitch, his guilt grew two-fold.

Seating himself beside her on the bench, Jean-Claude took a deep breath. He reached down and picked up one of her feet and slipped off her shoe. Admittedly, three-inch pumps were not ideal for traipsing across the city in. He massaged the sole of her foot gently and offered her an apologetic look.

Paris stopped crying and wiped at her remaining tears with the palm of her hand. “So you can be sweet when you want to be,” she sniffed.

Jean-Claude lowered his eyes. “I suppose I deserve that,” he stated. “I apologize for my behavior. I am angry, but it is not towards you. I have come to realize I am angrier with myself than anyone, because the ridiculous status quo I contentedly reside in is entirely of my own making. It really has nothing to do with you, or your Ulfric, or anyone beside myself.” Carefully he lowered Paris’ foot to the ground and picked up the other to massage it.

It was clear from her expression, she didn’t understand exactly what he was going on about, but she had caught the gist of his discontent. Her eyes reflected a warm sympathy for him. She reached over and placed her hand reassuringly on his arm.

“I’m sorry for the way I acted too,” she told him. “I can tell you’re having a rough time. You’re cold and hungry and lonely for your girl. And the last thing you need is some PMSing shapeshifter carrying on like a child about her sore feet.”

Jean-Claude had to smile. He looked deeply into her eyes and sighed. She really was very pretty. Strange how he had not really taken note of her looks before now. Maybe it was the clothing. Asher’s silver-colored jacket suited her complexion and set off her bright red hair. Anita’s dress, though too short for Paris, fit her surprisingly well everywhere else. She seemed a genuinely likeable person and if the circumstances were at all different, Jean-Claude decided he would welcome her among his Kiss.

Lost in random thought, Jean-Claude absently smoothed his hand over the length of Paris’ out-stretched leg. His eyes trailed after his hand, from her slender ankles to her long, tanned thighs. She had nice legs, Jean-Claude decided; shapely and well-toned. They had looked especially nice wrapped around Asher’s butt earlier.

Snatching his hand from Paris’ skin as if he’d just been burned, Jean-Claude slid out from under her limbs and rose to his feet.

“Come. We must be going,” he said with a noticeable quiver in his voice. His control was clearly fraying around the edges. Soon, feeding would be all he’d think of.

Surprisingly, Paris caught hold of his hand before he could get away from her. Worry marred her pretty face with tense lines. She drew Jean-Claude back to the bench. Jean-Claude was somewhat startled by how little he was resisting her.

“You don’t feel well, do you?” she said perceptively. “You’re getting paler by the minute.”

Jean-Claude shook his head. “I am only feeling somewhat out of sorts tonight,” he answered her. “I’ve paid too little attention to my needs these past few days. I’ve fed differently than I normally do and though it sustains me, it is not as effective as I need it to be and I do not garner much power from it.”

“You should know better,” Paris softly chided. “You’re the Master of the City. You should always keep your power at its peak. Your people rely on you and you’re putting them in jeopardy--allowing yourself to become vulnerable like this.”

Jean-Claude did feel vulnerable. His own mind didn’t even seem under his control anymore. The unbidden erotic images and lustful thoughts which continuously popped into his head told him he was feeling Anita’s absence in more ways than one.

“Look, I won’t tell anybody because I know you need to keep things quiet,” Paris continued. “I won’t even tell Richard. He can punish me however he wants, but I don’t care. You can still take me back to him, because I get this whole thing between you and our Bolverk, but right now she‘s not available, and your pomme de sang isn‘t around either. Just the fill-in. I‘m sorry, Jean-Claude, but right now, I‘m all you‘ve got.”

The vampire raised his eyes slowly. It was a viable argument, he had to admit. For reasons unknown, Jean-Claude felt more comfortable with the idea of feeding from Paris here. Perhaps it was the anonymity the city streets provided. There were a few people milling about, but should anyone happen upon the two of them, they would simply appear as lovers caught up in a passionate exchange.

Jean-Claude knew he could feed from her with a kiss. It would bolster his waning control and get him through the next few hours until a suitable blood source could be found. Then, Anita had permitted him to feed this way with women before. There’d be no harm done.

“All right,” Jean-Claude said. He sat beside Paris on the bench and gathered her into his arms. “I am going to kiss you.”

“Kiss me?” Paris echoed. “Okay.”

Despite her consent, the werewolf’s body suddenly felt like a coiled spring in his arms. She was too wound up with expectation to feel anything resembling the lust he required. Jean-Claude peered into her eyes. “Calm yourself. You’re too tense.”

Paris took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. You’re giving me a second chance so I want it to be good, you know. I feel like I‘m auditioning for you in a way. Like, maybe you‘ll reconsider--”

“Don’t think about that,” Jean-Claude scolded her. “I need you to relax.”

“Okay, okay,” she agreed, but only tensed more when he leaned towards her.

Sighing, Jean-Claude only nuzzled her cheek with his jaw. Obviously, he was going to have to get into this a lot more than he would have preferred. He needed Paris to focus on her desire for him or this would not work at all.

“Touch me, cherie,” he whispered in her ear, pouring his seductive power into his voice. He flicked the tip of his tongue across her studded lobe. “Think of how much I want to make love to you. I am giving you my body. Use it for your pleasure. Touch me. Kiss me.”

Blinking up at him, Paris placed her hand on Jean-Claude’s chest. Slowly, she slid it over his shoulder to his neck. When her fingertips grazed his bare skin, she sighed and raised her other hand to his neck. Moving closer to Jean-Claude, her eyes drifted over his face with abject adoration and she parted her lips invitingly, drawing him down towards her.

“Yes,“ Jean-Claude breathed out, releasing his ardeur. “Je veux faire l’amour avec toi.“ He focused on her open lips. They were as red as the blood the vampire knew was coursing through her veins, as succulent looking, and undoubtedly sweet.

“Yes,” Paris echoed, her eyes fluttering shut.

His own passion flaring unexpectedly, Jean-Claude eased Paris down on the bench, kissing her deeply, laving her delectable lips with his tongue before pushing it past her teeth into the wet, hot recesses of her mouth. His hand roamed her side with savor, over the sloping curve of her hip and up to her ample bosom.

The werewolf’s body was so incredibly warm. Her skin was so very soft and supple. She carried Asher’s scent and filled out Anita’s dress with enticing familiarity. It was all proving to be quite a heady mixture of stimulation for Jean-Claude. He nearly forgot who he was kissing and his too long neglected desire was practically carrying him away.

“Yes,“ Paris said again. She pulled open the neckline of the dress, exposing herself to the vampire brazenly.

Asher’s words regarding consent flitted through Jean-Claude’s mind. He dragged his mouth from Paris’ lips, down her neck to the top of her breast. Teasingly, Jean-Claude squeezed her and stroked her nipple until it hardened beneath his palm, then covered it with his mouth and sucked on it softly.

Paris moaned with pleasure, clearly exuding lust now. She bent her leg and pressed it against Jean-Claude’s hip, centering her loins directly beneath his.

“Fuck me,” Paris murmured into Jean-Claude’s mouth. She whimpered and squirmed with arousal.

The husky sound of her voice almost startled Jean-Claude however. His body may have been on Paris, but his mind had been on Anita.

Quelling his own lust now, he drew Paris’ need into him, replenishing his power to the point of satiation, and as his power was restored, his mind cleared, his body calmed, and his awareness grew. His attention zeroed in on a faint clicking some distance away. An insect perhaps? Jean-Claude realized if he was thinking of insects while in the provocative embrace of a beautiful woman, his demon was fulfilled.

Jean-Claude stopped kissing Paris and shifted to move off her, but her hands were all but fastened to his rear end, imprisoning his hips as she ground herself against him.

“Stop,” the master vampire hissed, pushing her away.

Paris obeyed, hauling herself up, and righting the neckline of her dress to cover her exposed breast. “Oh, don’t stop yet,” she fairly pleaded. “I was just starting to get into it.”

Jean-Claude worked to wipe the lipstick from his mouth. “I apologize, but it is for the best.”

Looking dejected, Paris shrugged. “Well, I hope you got what you needed from that. It didn’t seem like I turned you on very much. I mean, you weren’t even getting hard….”

Smoothing out the creases in his shirt, Jean-Claude faced Paris. “For your information, it is not necessary that I be turned on to feed, so to speak. You must also keep in mind, until I have a meal of blood, I remain--”

“Oh, right,” Paris told him and blushed a little. She lowered her eyes and swallowed self-consciously. “How’s a girl supposed to know if she’s got it going or not with you then?”

Jean-Claude smiled easily. He reached over and raised her chin with his hand until her eyes met his. “You’ve no need to doubt. You did well for me. You pleased me just as you were supposed to do.”

Returning his smile, Paris leaned forward and softly kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks,” she whispered.

Click. Click. Click.

Jean-Claude turned his head in the direction of the strange sound. “Did you hear that?”

Paris frowned now. “What, in particular? I can hear all sorts of things.”

“Never mind,” Jean-Claude said, dismissing the matter with a wave of his hand. He rose and helped Paris to her feet. She didn’t bother to replace the shoes, choosing to carry them in her hand and walk on barefoot.

“Let’s do this,” she told Jean-Claude, her frown deepening. She raised her eyes and looked longingly up at him. “I hope you will consider me, maybe in the not-so-distant future, to be one of the Kiss’ pommes. I know I can’t replace Jason or mean anything to you that even resembles what Anita Blake does, but I can still fill in the gaps.”

Jean-Claude took Paris’ hand in his. “I will consider it,” he promised. At the rate his Kiss was growing, he’d soon need another permanent pomme de sang and in time, Anita’s restrictions on him had lessened. Who knew what his future held?

Drawing Paris closer to him, he chivalrously offered her his arm as they started back down the street, this time side by side.

*****

Chapter Four

“Well, well, well,” the Ulfric of the Thronnos Rokke clan said with a grin as Jean-Claude entered his office at the Lunatic Café and closed the door behind him. “As I live and breathe--which unfortunately you don’t--I’d never thought I’d see the day when the Master Vampire of all of St. Louis darkens my doorstep.”

Jean-Claude offered Richard a condescending smile in return. He took a seat opposite Richard’s desk and leaned back, striking a pose of absolute nonchalance. He gestured at the pack leader with an amiable wave of his hand. “I was certain you would be expecting me.”

Richard sat forward slightly. “Oh and why is that Jean-Claude? Explain it to me.”

Jean-Claude’s eyes drifted over to where Paris stood back in the farthest corner of the room. Richard followed the direction of his gaze and fixed his eyes on Paris.

“Dismiss her,” the master vampire told the Ulfric. “What we have to discuss is of a private nature.”

Richard looked back at Jean-Claude. He made a face at him and shook his head. “I don’t have the faintest clue what all this is about, Jean-Claude, so why don’t you just stop pussyfooting around and come right to the point for a change.”

Jean-Claude crossed his legs and brushed at some imaginary lint on his pants. He was prepared to wait all night if need be. “Dismiss her first.”

Richard’s eyes narrowed. “You dismiss her. She’s yours, for the time being.”

Jean-Claude didn’t bother to look up. He wasn’t about to acknowledge such a thing. As expected, it was Richard who lost his patience first. He rose to his feet and turned to Paris, flinging his arm towards the office door.

“Go on,” he rumbled. “But report back to me when we‘re through.” His eyes locked on Jean-Claude. “I want to know what this is really all about.”

Paris fled the office, still wearing Asher’s jacket and still clutching Anita’s shoes. Jean-Claude realized regretfully, he’d probably never see either again. He faced Richard.

“Why are you insinuating I won’t be forthcoming about this? I am the one who sought you out tonight, mon ami.”

Richard sank back down in his chair and dragged his hand through his amber-colored hair which had grown into an array of tousled spikes. The shorter hair he currently sported put more focus on his ruggedly handsome face and drew out the deep brown of his eyes. It was easy to see what women found so attractive about him. Women like Paris and women like Anita. Richard was the epitome of modern masculine appeal. Something Jean-Claude could never hope to achieve, no matter how short he wore his hair or changed his style.

“Well, are you going to tell me what’s going on, or are you going to sit there and stare at me all night?” Richard began, breaking into Jean-Claude’s envious reverie.

“I’m returning the woman,” the master vampire responded blankly, trying to disguise the irritation he felt.

It surprised him that just being in Richard‘s presence sparked a jealousy in him of all the things Richard was that appealed to Anita which he wasn‘t. It was all so irrational, but the vampire couldn’t seem to help himself.

“You’re returning her? Why?” Richard asked, his voice sounding just as empty. Jean-Claude could only hope Richard was disguising a jealous fit of his own.

“You know why,” Jean-Claude shot back. “You knew the moment you decided to send her to The Circus of the Damned I would return her.”

Richard did a convincingly well job of feigning innocence. “I did, huh? Maybe I would if you weren’t shielding from me--I could maybe read your mind, because if you don’t tell me, how the hell am I supposed to know?” Richard paused and seemed to come to a different conclusion suddenly. His concern now seemed genuine. “Did she do something wrong? Was it Asher?”

Jean-Claude had to smile at that. It warmed his heart to think Richard would be concerned for Asher. “Non, mon ami, she and Asher got along famously in fact.”

“What then?” Richard was back to being impatient. “What’s the problem?”

Jean-Claude sighed. “You know…at least you should know, I cannot use a woman. I can only use men. Paris’ only fault stems from the fact she is very much a woman.”

For a moment, the Ulfric looked truly nonplussed. Jean-Claude tended to forget how naïve he was at times. But then Richard didn’t make a point of studying the intricacies of vampire existence and he certainly went out of his way to avoid the ins and outs of Jean-Claude’s personal society.

“You prefer men,” Richard announced, seemingly knowingly.

Jean-Claude shook his head. “Anita…prefers men. My only requirement is that my food not be furry at the time of my feeding. Man or woman, human, shape shifter, it does not matter to me. But out of respect for Anita’s wishes, I am presently limiting myself to men.”

At last it appeared as if Richard understood. He smiled, and then started to laugh lightly. “Or rather you like her to think you do.”

Jean-Claude tensed. “What are you implying, mon ami?”

Richard leaned back in his chair. “Oh come on now, Jean-Claude. We’re both guys here, Anita’s miles away. You don’t need to pretend with me. You get some on the sly, don’t try to deny it.”

“I will deny it,” the master vampire replied more vehemently than he would have liked.

Richard chuckled deeply. “I think the fair vampire doth protest too much.”

Jean-Claude concentrated on keeping his expression void of emotion. He took a deep, cleansing breath, and then offered Richard another indulgent smile. “What has led you to believe this about me? I know for a fact such accusations didn’t come from Anita. Who else’s mind have you access to that indicts me of infidelity?”

“Paris,” Richard said plainly, as if Jean-Claude should have known all along. He gestured at the closed office door. “She’s outside there right this minute, replaying the night in her head like a soft-core porn film she saw at the Bijou. When you said she and Asher got along famously, I’d have to agree with you now.” Richard’s eyes looked past Jean-Claude as he turned his gaze inward and he smiled mischievously. “I would have never imagined you’d be the type to hook up at a bus stop. How very…plebian of you, mon ami.”

Jean-Claude closed his eyes momentarily and swore to himself. Richard was right. There were no secrets between himself and his pack. There were no secrets between any of them. It was all metaphysically impossible.

“I was feeding,” the vampire muttered with a graceful, Gaelic shrug. “Foolishly I had let my hungers reach the point of dire need. It would not have been wise of me to go on that way much longer. On route here, your wolf graciously offered me her service and I was simply too vulnerable to reject her again.”

“Oh, I see,” Richard said with a grin that told Jean-Claude the exact opposite. “So now we’re back to square one, aren’t we? Asher used her, you used her…so what’s the problem?”

Now Jean-Claude was beginning to lose his patience. “Richard, if you would be so kind as to assign another wolf to this duty, a male this time, I will collect my substitute and simply be on my way.”

The expression on Richard’s face told Jean-Claude he was all business now. “Sorry. No can do.” He sat forward and leaned his elbows on his desk. “Two reasons. One: this was a voluntary assignment. I’m not about to order any of my wolves to be fed off of like sheep, and two: you and Asher have already used Paris--my only volunteer, by the way--so you’ve already accepted my offering of her. You can’t return her now.”

Jean-Claude rose to his feet. Clearly it had been futile to even think Richard would cooperate in this matter. Perhaps he hadn’t sent Paris out of spite, but he was more than capable of bending a few rules when it suited him. Obviously, this just wasn’t one of those times.

“I am not taking the blame for this,” the vampire announced under his breath. “If Anita is unhappy with these arrangements, then I will point her in your direction. You’re the one who tries at every twist and turn to cast me as the antagonist in her life. You’re the one who is so insecure you must constantly thwart me to set yourself apart in her eyes. After all this time, Richard, why do you still harbor such animosity for me? The rivalry is over.”

With a clear, menacing look in his eyes, Richard rose from his chair, his body tense with barely controlled anger.

“Is it? I know you are just as jealous of me as I am of you where Anita is concerned,“ Richard replied. “The only difference is you think you’ve succeeded where I haven’t, but I’m sad to say, you haven’t succeeded at all. Not the way you hoped to anyway.“

Jean-Claude frowned openly. “I am not competing against you. I am trying to work with you.“

Richard put his hands on his hips. “No. You are the insecure one, Jean-Claude,” he began evenly, despite his glowering eyes. “You’re so afraid of offending Anita’s ridiculous and unrealistic sensibilities, you go out of your way, against your nature, and beyond reasonable expectations to keep her in your bed. I don’t need to make you antagonistic in her eyes because we’re so far at opposite ends of the scale, there’s just no comparison. For example, I have sex with whomever I want, whenever I want, and Anita knows it. So she doesn’t like it, but she accepts it because unlike you, I told her that’s just the way it was going to be. Why don’t you try it sometime, Jean-Claude?”

Jean-Claude stared back at Richard, and then shook his head. “No thank you,” he murmured and turned to leave.

Richard snorted a sharp laugh of disbelief. “And why the hell not?”

Pulling open the office door, Jean-Claude paused and turned to face the Ulfric one last time. “Because I love her,” he stated confidently. With that, he motioned for Paris to follow him and closed the door behind him.

*****

Chapter Five

As dawn drew near, Jean-Claude ordered Paris to stay in her assigned quarters unless she was summoned. She was pleased to be taken back to The Circus, but seemingly could tell Jean-Claude wanted as little to do with her as possible for the remainder of her stay and slunk to her room dejectedly.

The master vampire couldn’t concern himself about such things at this point. He refused to lead Paris on just to placate her feelings, but he also couldn’t help regretting having to treat her like the “sheep” she was assigned to be.

By the time Jean-Claude retired to his bedroom, he was in a gloomy mood to say the least. He started stripping off his clothes to get into bed and tossed them indiscriminately over the back of a chair, sparing only a quick glance at Asher reclining across the pillows. He paused, reconsidering undressing further.

“Perhaps we should sleep in our coffins for the time being,” Jean-Claude wondered aloud. “I do not want to wake the coming evening the way I did last night. I ordered her to stay in her room, but in an hour or so, I’ll have no way of knowing if she does or not. I do not want to chance it.”

Asher sat up slightly, propping his head up with his elbow. “Do you really think that is necessary? Returning to the coffins, that is. If you do not trust her, put a guard at her door.”

Jean-Claude frowned. “I do not want her to think she is being imprisoned during her stay here.”

At that, Asher smiled. “I think you already have, mon ami by confining her to her room. The surprising part is over. At least we know who she is and why she is here now. I can think of worst things than waking up with her wedged between us.” Asher stretched languidly, seductively, and then he rolled over and patted the vacant space on the sheets beside him. “Come to bed, Jean-Claude.”

The master vampire sighed, resigned. He really didn’t want to return to his coffin either and the sight of Asher’s glorious naked body atop those shimmery scarlet sheets was just too convincing an argument not to.

Tossing aside the last of his garments, Jean-Claude glided towards the bed. He took a moment before climbing in, letting his gaze linger on Asher appreciatively.

Asher opened his arms and as Jean-Claude settled into his embrace, he was rewarded with a kiss that almost made him forget about the trials of the night. Almost.

Peering into Asher’s eyes, Jean-Claude sighed, but not from pleasure. Asher raised his hand and lovingly stroked the side of Jean-Claude’s face. He leaned forward and touched his lips to Jean-Claude’s brow and trailed them down the bridge of his nose, over his mouth to his chin. Jean-Claude closed his eyes and snuggled closer to his friend.

“What’s bothering you?” Asher asked, continuing his oral exploration of Jean-Claude’s face. He slipped his hand down Jean-Claude’s side to his hip and caressingly squeezed the round fullness of muscle beneath his palm.

With an imperceptible shake of his head, Jean-Claude sighed again, responding this time to Asher’s flirtatious attention. He could feel Asher’s hardness, pushing urgently against his thigh and wrapped his leg over Asher’s hip to draw the other vampire closer still.

“Nothing,” Jean-Claude said, tilting his head back to give Asher better access to his throat. Asher obligingly gnawed the skin just under his jaw line.

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Asher whispered in his ear. “Don’t give me that. Something’s wrong. I can tell.” Latching his mouth to the base of Jean-Claude’s neck, Asher sucked and chewed his flesh voraciously as if determined to mark him. His hand shifted as his long elegant fingers sought the shallow recesses just out of his reach, making Jean-Claude writhe against him.

“I…” the master vampire began, and then momentarily lost his train of thought as Asher’s fingertip penetrated his body. He moaned softly and tightened his arms around Asher’s shoulders. “I will need to take blood this coming evening.”

“I hope you do,” Asher breathed into Jean-Claude’s hair. “It makes the hours before daybreak that much more interesting.”

Jean-Claude flashed a smile. “You are becoming as singular-minded when it comes to sex as I am, mon ami.”

Asher grasped Jean-Claude’s chin, opening his mouth just before covering it with his own. Asher’s kiss was soft, but devouring. His tongue slithered over Jean-Claude’s with a languid stroking motion, his full lips caressing his with a tantalizing thoroughness.

“Can you blame me?” Asher growled, his voice thickening with desire. “When I have the sexiest man in all of St. Louis in my arms. Mon Dieu, Je te veux.” He nuzzled Jean-Claude’s neck before pulling back far enough to look the other vampire squarely in the eye as if he suddenly remembered something important. “Why is the idea of taking blood upsetting you?”

Jean-Claude half-shrugged. “It will upset Anita. Not the idea of taking blood, but the inevitable intimacy with another woman I will have while I‘m taking blood. I‘m not certain how she will react when she finds out about Paris--if she doesn‘t know about her already.”

He would be surprised if Jason hadn‘t told Anita by now. Now that he thought about it, Anita hadn’t called him once since she’d been away.

Asher only sighed heavily. “Is that all? Jean-Claude, don’t sweat the small stuff. Anita will understand its necessity. She’s reliably rational when the situation calls for it.” He offered Jean-Claude a reassuring smile and moved to kiss him again, but Jean-Claude rolled onto his back, evading his advances. Thoughts of Anita’s impending jealousy were quashing his libido.

“Rational?” Jean-Claude echoed. “Anita is anything but rational when it comes to me. And even less tolerant.” He was thinking about Richard now and what he had said earlier regarding his blatant sexual activities. “I try my best to abide by her wishes, but it is not always easy.”

Undeterred, Asher slid up against Jean-Claude and draped his arm across his chest. “In the relatively short time I have known Anita, she has come to terms with many of the more unpleasant aspects of being so closely associated with vampires. She has shown new levels of tolerance for many of the things we do, some out of necessity, some not.” He dragged his hand teasingly down Jean-Claude’s stomach to the thickening black curls below.

Jean-Claude’s eyes floated to Asher’s face before sliding shut in abject bliss. If Asher was trying to distract him from his anxiety, he was doing a fair job of it. His hand was performing the most exquisite ministrations on him now, making his mind gravitate more towards the pleasurable sensations currently coursing through it.

“Umm….that’s true,” Jean-Claude conceded, having to struggle to piece together a coherent reply now. “Perhaps I’m underestimating…her. She is a remarkable woman.” He tried to ignore the little rattling voice in the back of his head that repeatedly reminded him that remarkable as she may be, Anita was still a woman.

Asher repositioned himself over Jean-Claude’s body. His face hovered mere inches above Jean-Claude’s groin.

“She is not as naïve as you believe either,” Asher went on casually, despite the fact his eyes fixed lustfully on the flesh just beneath his mouth. “She knows we no longer retire to separate rooms come dawn.” He flicked his tongue over Jean-Claude’s tip making his breath catch. “I know there was a time she would not have allowed this….”

…But then maybe Anita simply believed they only slept together. Literally.

“If that is true, Jean,” Asher whispered huskily, evidently capturing Jean-Claude’s projected thought, “then there is no hope for her.” He turned his head and smiled devilishly, then lowered his face between Jean-Claude‘s legs.

The moment Asher’s cool, wet mouth touched Jean-Claude’s body, he moaned with euphoric delight. His fingertips trailed lovingly over the long golden tresses twisting and tickling his abdomen with every movement of Asher’s head. His mind centered on his need, whisking away the remnants of the night’s tension. Unable to wrap his brain around another single thought, Jean-Claude realized he could only feel now and surrendered himself to his rising passion.

“Finish me,” Jean-Claude gasped pleadingly after only a few minutes had passed. His body was so wracked with desire now, he felt somewhat tortured, and in acute need of release.

Asher graciously obliged him, riding out wave after wave of Jean-Claude’s orgasm while still cradling him in his mouth. He only raised his head after the last of Jean-Claude’s tremors faded and the master vampire lie panting and groaning beneath him. He dragged himself back up to Jean-Claude’s face and dropped a quick kiss on his still quivering lips.

“Tomorrow, promise me you’ll feed,” he whispered, nuzzling his cheek. “I like seeing my men as aroused as I make them.”

Jean-Claude smiled and leaned over to capture Asher‘s mouth with his. “I will, mon ami. I promise.”

*****

Chapter Six

Jean-Claude sat forward slightly in anticipation as he waited for Anita to answer her cell phone. He had dialed her hotel room initially, but was informed she was no longer accepting calls through the switchboard. He couldn’t think why she was having her calls blocked, but he didn’t dwell on it considering he had her cell number and could just as easily call that.

It wasn’t as if he had anything in particular to say to her; he was more or less just catching up with her, seeing how she was doing, and if her seminar was going well. Mostly, he just wanted to hear her voice. He wanted to hear her tell him how much she missed him and how she couldn’t wait to come home to him. It was going on five nights now without a word from her and since she was shielding and blocking his contact metaphysically as well, Jean-Claude was feeling more than a little disconnected from her and decided a phone call was in order this evening.

After what seemed like ten rings later, the phone was answered. Jean-Claude opened his mouth to greet her, but quickly realized he had only gotten through to her voice mail. The only thing he could do was leave a recorded message.

After the beep sounded, Jean-Claude sighed heavily. He hated answering machines and voice mails. They were so disappointing.

“Good evening, ma petite,” he began softly. “I was just calling to say hello. You must be very busy there. I haven’t heard from you… I miss you. If you get this message, please call me. Until then.” With that, he hung up the phone and leaned back against his sofa cushions.

Despite having just taken his first blood meal in nearly a week, Jean-Claude felt listless and unmotivated. Then, he hadn’t taken his fill, still too mired in guilt to truly satisfy his need. He’d taken Paris’ mind, but nothing had come of it. Including Paris. He had made sure of that. He left her incoherent in her room after only a few swallows from her wrist, but even that seemed to give her too much pleasure. Jean-Claude was reluctant to feed from her again, but knew he’d have to at some point. Damn Richard.

Jean-Claude sighed again. He was wasting time thinking about such things. There was a veritable myriad of little projects he could do tonight to pass the time…but all he wanted to do was talk to Anita and clearly that wasn’t about to happen any time soon.

Forcing himself to his feet, he started to pull on his waistcoat to go out when Micah walked in followed closely by Asher.

Micah froze as he set eyes on Jean-Claude. He looked back at Asher apprehensively and then cleared his throat self-consciously.

“By chance, have you seen the morning news?“ he asked, clearly feeling such a sense of urgency, he didn‘t bother dispensing pleasantries first.

Jean-Claude merely frowned at the Nimir-Raj and continued on towards the hall. “Non. The morning editions go to the clubs. I don’t read them here, but I am on my way out there now, if either of you care to join me.”

“I think you need to see this, cheri,” Asher said rather solemnly.

The tone of the other vampire’s voice made Jean-Claude stop in his tracks. It was then he noticed the folded newspaper under Micah’s arm and the unhappy expression on his handsome face. Apparently whatever news he and Asher were bearing wasn’t particularly good.

“Tell me,” Jean-Claude more or less commanded, accepting the paper Micah readily handed him.

“Last night,” Asher explained, “while you were escorting Paris to the Lunatic Café….”

Jean-Claude unfolded the front page and quickly skimmed the headlines. It seemed no different than any other day’s news for the most part.

“Bottom of the third page,“ Micah offered helpfully.

Getting more nervous by the second, Jean-Claude quickly flipped to the third page of the newspaper. Finally, under the news of local interest, he spied the series of photos gracing the bottom of the page and his heart skidded to a halt. Now he realized what Micah and Asher were so concerned about.

“A paparazzi photographer must have been following you,” Asher went on. “And he has captured you with the mademoiselle in three very compromising positions.”

Jean-Claude read the caption beneath the three published photos with growing horror. “Giving new meaning to the term ’bench warming’: Jean-Claude, the Master Vampire of the City, along with an unidentified woman, engage in a little late night amour at the bus stop just past Westgate Street after taking a midnight stroll. Anita Blake, Jean-Claude‘s usual companion, could not be reached for comment.”

Asher and Micah exchanged worried glances. Jean-Claude looked up wide-eyed with disbelief.

“If it is any consolation, your face is not fully visible in any of the photographs,” Asher quickly pointed out. “You can simply say it was a case of mistaken identity. The only reason I know it is actually you is because I recognized my jacket.”

Micah gestured at Jean-Claude and shook his head. “With all due respect, how did you end up getting your picture taken making-out with some red-headed woman on a bus stop bench?”

Numbly, Jean-Claude handed the paper back to Micah. He didn’t like the fact the newspaper had printed such provocative pictures of him with Paris; but truthfully, it was the last sentence of the caption that bothered him more than anything. Anita Blake, Jean-Claude’s usual companion, could not be reached for comment.

Some reporter had obviously called Anita and told her about the pictures--maybe even sent them to her through the miracles of modern technology, then asked what she thought about them. She had most likely been badgered about this matter throughout the day. No wonder Anita was not accepting phone calls. Especially from him.

“I was feeding,” Jean-Claude began quietly, and then gestured at the paper. “It looks a lot worse than it actually was in those pictures. It started out as just a kiss. I’m not sure how or why I ended up nearly ravaging her. It may have had something to do with the fact she was wearing Anita’s dress and the scent of Asher from his coat was all over her body.”

Asher clucked his tongue admonishingly. “He hadn’t fed in days,” he informed Micah. “His control was tenuous at best. If he had simply bitten her wrist in the privacy of his room he would have been done with it, but no, he was being stubborn.” Finally Asher turned his attention back on Jean-Claude. “When are you going to start listening to me?”

Jean-Claude moaned. “Asher, please, not now.” He drifted over to the sofa and sank down in the middle of the soft cushions. He caught sight of the phone out of the corner of his eye and sighed despondently.

Tossing the newspaper aside, Micah went to Jean-Claude and sat beside him. He took the vampire’s hand and squeezed it affectionately.

“Why didn’t you call me? I would have come to you, had I known.” He leaned forward and nuzzled Jean-Claude’s neck, lowering his voice. “You like to feed from me, I know you do.” Raising Jean-Claude’s hand to his lips, he softly kissed his knuckles.

Jean-Claude smiled coyly at the Nimir-Raj, but then looked up at Asher. Micah followed the direction of Jean-Claude’s gaze and sighed forcefully.

“Asher, of course,” Micah continued. He dropped Jean-Claude’s hand and rose to his feet to address the tall blonde vampire standing in front of him. “You have no reason whatsoever to feel jealous of me. What I give to Jean-Claude is no different from what Jason or Stephan or any of the pommes give him. Why do you single me out all the time? He makes them come too.”

Clearly fuming, Asher’s steely blue eyes narrowed and his upper lip curled back in the subtlest of snarls. He peered down at the wereleopard menacingly. “So, by some incredulous twist of fate, I am now to blame for this sordid business with the photographer? How dare you imply such a thing! I tried to warn him! I offered to go with him! He doesn’t fucking listen to me!”

Jean-Claude shot to his feet and slipped in between the glowering men. “Enough! If any one is to blame, it is me and solely me,” he growled. “But both of you seem to be forgetting the most disturbing aspect of this entire ordeal.” Jean-Claude looked from Micah to Asher. “Evidently, Anita knows. Surely she has made her own assumptions about the photographs by now.”

Micah seemed to take a deep, cleansing breath. “You should call her. Explain them to her. She’ll understand.”

Both Asher and Jean-Claude gave the Nimir-Raj dubious looks.

“I tried calling her just before you arrived,” Jean-Claude told him. “She’s not taking calls through the hotel switchboard and I only got her voicemail when I tried to reach her on her cell phone. What’s worse is she is shielding from me. I cannot feel her at all.”

Micah reached inside his jacket pocket and withdrew his own cell phone. Dialing Anita’s number through a series of codes, he faced Jean-Claude and took a deep breath. “Let me try her. I’ll get her on the line, calm her down, and then I’ll pass the phone to you. Then you can talk to her.”

Jean-Claude brightened at the idea. If anything, at least he’d get to speak with her. He leaned against Asher for support, waiting for Micah’s phone to be answered. Obligingly, Asher planted a kiss on Jean-Claude’s hair and put his arm around his waist reassuringly.

When Anita finally answered, her voice rang out loud and clear through Micah’s phone, making Jean-Claude’s heart thump against the walls of his chest half from excitement, half from trepidation. Micah greeted her, asked her how things were going at the crime seminar, and listened dutifully to her reply. She sounded fairly normal and even-tempered. If she was aware of the photos, as Jean-Claude suspected, she wasn’t reacting in any particular way or relaying her knowledge of them to her Nimir-Raj.

Clearly feeling confident she would talk with Jean-Claude, Micah informed her the vampire was right beside him and had tried calling her earlier. Suddenly Anita’s tone changed. Jean-Claude could still hear her reply; despite the fact she had lowered her voice.

“I can’t speak to him right now, Micah,” she half-whispered, half-growled. “I don’t even know what I would say to him if I did.”

Obviously playing the devil’s advocate, Micah prodded Anita for more information. “Is something wrong? If I didn’t know any better, it sounds like things are a little strained between the two of you. Do you want to talk about it?”

“You’re right, you don’t know any better, so you can either speak to Jean-Claude about it, or we can just leave it at that for tonight,” Anita replied. “In other words, no, I don’t want to talk about it.”

Micah sighed and offered Jean-Claude an apologetic look. “All right. I respect your wishes. Have a good night and I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Is he still there?” Anita asked unexpectedly.

Micah nodded automatically. “Uh, yes. He’s still here. Have you changed your mind about talking to him?”

Anita paused before replying. Jean-Claude held his breath.

“No. But tell him I’ll call him tomorrow. And he better have nothing short of a miracle of an explanation up his sleeve.” With that she hung up.

Feeling sapped of strength, Jean-Claude laid his head on Asher’s shoulder now. He moaned and closed his eyes. “At least you tried, mon ami,” he told Micah, rubbing his cheek against Asher’s shirt.

The wereleopard shrugged. “She did say she would call you tomorrow. Maybe she’ll be more receptive to what you have to say then. She probably just needs a little time to cool off.”

Oui,” Asher added. “At least she is willing to listen to what you have to say about it. It’s not as though she’s refusing to hear your side of the story.”

Jean-Claude raised his head to look into Asher’s eyes. “The longer she goes without knowing the truth behind those photos, the more distorted her conclusions are going to get. She’s already angry. She is already assuming the worse.”

Micah stepped towards Jean-Claude. “You’re assuming the worse about her too,” he chided softly. “Anita will probably spend the night thinking about it and realize there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. She won’t automatically doubt you if you’ve never given her reason to before.”

“This from the man who has never given Anita reason to doubt him,” Asher grumbled sarcastically.

Micah glared up at the vampire. “I never said that.”

“You think you understand Anita so completely,” Asher went on testily. “Jean-Claude has probably given Anita less reason to doubt him than any of you, yet he is the one she is so quick to pass judgment on for the slightest infringement.”

Micah opened his mouth to speak, but Jean-Claude brusquely pushed out of Asher’s embrace and stretched out his arms to bodily separate the two men once more.

“You speak of me as if I’m not even here,” Jean-Claude hissed at Asher. He turned and fixed his eyes on Micah next. “And don’t presume to tell me what Anita will or will not think about this. Maybe she’d simply grouse about it for a few days if you were the one on the bench in the photos, but with me, her reasoning becomes something else altogether.”

For a moment, Micah looked back at the vampire blankly, and then he offered him a warming smile. “Jean-Claude, all I’m saying is you need to have faith in her love for you. She…exacts harsher punishment on you for your trespasses than the rest of us because she loves you that much more.”

For a moment, Jean-Claude mulled this over. It was not only pretty to think of Anita’s anger in this way, it also left-handedly made sense. The Nimir-Raj’s words were somewhat soothing, and Jean-Claude lowered his hand from Micah’s chest, feeling a little of his tension ease. A slow smile turned up the corners of his mouth, and he leaned over and bestowed a whisper of a kiss on the wereleopard’s brow.

“Thank you, mon ami, for that. It is something I truly needed to hear tonight.”

Micah smiled back at Jean-Claude and inclined his head graciously.

Jean-Claude turned to Asher and found him still seething with anger. Having garnered his lover’s attention at last, Asher gestured at Micah, but unleashed his temper on Jean-Claude.

“Why do you think things would be better if he was the one with you on the bench?”

Micah rolled his eyes. “Not him with me, me with… Oh never mind.”

Jean-Claude’s jaw fell open in disbelief. He opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it and shook his head instead.

“I’m leaving,” he suddenly announced. “This jealousy is already intolerable and I’ve yet to deal with Anita‘s. I’m going to the Laughing Corpse for the night. If anyone wants to reach me, that’s where I’ll be.”

*****

Chapter Seven

Secluded in his second floor office, Jean-Claude sat behind the big wooden desk, staring at the blinking cursor on his computer. Hours had passed and he’d accomplished nothing. His mind was too busy recounting the night’s events and the sound of Anita’s voice over the phone.

The phone.

His eyes settled on the handset lying neglected beside his equally neglected computer. Impulsively, he reached for it and punched Anita’s cell number into the keypad. He wasn’t really expecting her to answer so when she actually did, he found himself somewhat at a loss for words.

“Hello? Hello?” Anita was saying. “We must have a bad connection. I can’t hear you. Can you call me back?”

Jean-Claude commanded himself to relax. “It is not the connection…” he began apprehensively. “It is me, ma petite.” He waited for the inevitable “click” of disconnection to follow, but strangely, it never came. He took a deep breath. “I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to explain…about the photos.” He briefly considered Asher’s idea of claiming it was all just a case of mistaken identity.

“Damn it. I wouldn’t have answered the phone if I had known it was you,” Anita retorted, sounding more than a little irritated. “But since I’ve got you on the line, Jean-Claude, let me just say this--I’ve been wracking my brain all night, trying to figure out what in the hell those pictures were about, and you know what? I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. And you know why that is? It’s because there is no excuse for those photos. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. And those…pictures say just about everything I need to know.”

Frowning deeply, Jean-Claude sat forward in his chair. “I completely understand how one could misconstrue the content of those photos, as to the casual observer, they are misleading at best,” Jean-Claude offered rationally. “The situation was a great deal more complicated than it appears.”

Anita actually laughed. “Complicated? Like hidden facts? Say for instance, if you look really hard, you can tell she’s not wearing any underwear, and from the position of your head in that middle photo, your mouth is probably on her tit. Oh, and in that third photo, with that kiss, I can see a little bit of tongue.”

Jean-Claude moaned inwardly. “Anita, listen to me--”

“Listen to you?” Anita all but shrieked over the phone. “Come off it, Jean-Claude. What do you honestly believe you can tell me that won’t sound so utterly ridiculous I won’t hang up on you?”

Realizing he was gripping the phone so hard his hand was beginning to cramp, Jean-Claude lowered the handset momentarily and switched it to his other ear.

“Promise me you will not hang up on me until you hear me out,” the vampire answered, his voice sounding a little more desperate than he would have liked.

“I’m not promising you anything, so you’d better talk fast,” Anita shot back.

Jean-Claude sighed. He repeated in his mind what Micah had told him--that Anita was only so angry with him because she loved him. “Ma petite, that woman in the photos with me is named Paris.”

“…Paris? Paris, the werewolf? Richard’s Paris?”

Jean-Claude was surprised. Obviously Anita was acquainted with her. “Oui. She was assigned to my Kiss as my new pomme de sang in Jason’s absence.”

It sounded as if Anita swore under her breath at that. “She’s your pomme now?”

Jean-Claude was partly pleased that Anita hadn’t hung up on him yet, but then it also seemed the more he explained to her, the more agitated she got. He swallowed down the knot in his throat and adopted the most casual tone he could.

“In the photos, it may look to you as if I was making love to her, but in truth, I was only feeding off her--the same way you allowed me to feed on stage at Guilty Pleasures the night Primo was subdued,” he was quick to add. “Last night, I needed to restore my power and quell my ardeur. I was sorely in need as I had not fed properly since before you left.”

“You were in need. You were only feeding off her.” Anita’s tone had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It seemed as if her full-blown anger was returning, replacing her dubious agitation. “Admit it, Jean-Claude, you weren’t just feeding off her!” Anita yelled now, making Jean-Claude wince. He had thought she had believed him up to this point. Now clearly, she wasn’t, and what she said next confirmed his suspicions. “Not at a secluded bus stop clear across town with her clothes practically falling off her and you on top of her, plastered between her legs! Damn you! You didn’t feed off those women at Guilty Pleasures like that! I give you an inch and you take a mile!”

“She was nervous!“ Jean-Claude countered defensively. “I needed her aroused.“

Anita paused momentarily, and then sighed heavily. “You know, I haven’t been gone a full week yet, and the first chance you get, you sneak off for a little hanky panky with your voluptuous new pomme.”

Jean-Claude felt close to swearing himself now.

“I did not ‘sneak off’ to be with her, ma petite. In all honesty, I was en route to see Richard to return her to him--to exchange her for someone more suitable…and less controversial.”

At that, Anita paused and her anger seemed to quiet. “And did you?”

Tentatively, Jean-Claude moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. “No--but only because Richard would not take her back.” He was quick to put the blame on Richard, but unfortunately it didn’t matter to Anita.

“So you did her again tonight too?” Anita growled.

Jean-Claude closed his eyes. He told himself again that Anita was only acting like this because she loved him. “I did not ‘do’ her. I took a little blood from her. I fed. That was all. I have told you the truth. What you choose to believe now is beyond my control.” He waited, but Anita did not reply. After a minute or so passed, Jean-Claude grew concerned. “Ma petite?”

“I’m sending Jason back,” Anita announced abruptly. “I don’t want you using that woman. She tried to bimbo her way into Richard‘s pants for status, and now she wants to get into yours.”

Jean-Claude sighed, half in relief, half in amusement. “There is no need for you to be jealous, ma petite,” he reassured her, pouring warmth and seduction into his voice now. “I have no intention of falling for any of her ambitious ploys. I am simply using her, and even that is only temporary.”

“Which is why I’m sending back Jason,” Anita persisted. “I don’t want you using her.”

Non, Jason needs to stay with you, ma petite,” Jean-Claude told her, trying not to make his command sound any stronger than a suggestion. “I can assure you, Paris poses no threat to you.”

Anita seemed to take a couple of deep breaths as if trying to calm down before replying. “You let her seduce you….”

Jean-Claude shook his head. “She didn’t seduce me.”

“Oh, so you admit that you seduced her?”

“I didn’t--I wasn’t going to use her because I knew you would read more into it than there was,” Jean-Claude argued.

“Then why did you use her?”

“I needed to. I merely suggested…” Jean-Claude let his voice trail off as he realized Paris had convinced him to use her, not the other way around. He sighed. “Well, she suggested--”

Anita laughed suddenly, but it was obviously not from mirth. “She’s already manipulating you! You‘re so blinded by lust for her, you can‘t even see it!”

Jean-Claude leaned back in his chair feeling exhausted. “Ma petite, she was only doing what a pomme de sang is supposed to do. She was satisfying my needs.” After he had said that out loud, he wanted to bite off his tongue.

“Yeah, I can tell from the pictures she took real good care of your needs,” Anita answered, her voice so chillingly calm now, it raised the hair on the back of Jean-Claude’s neck. “You know what, go to hell.” With that she hung up.

Jean-Claude stared back at the buzzing phone in his hand blankly. Was there even a moment of that conversation in which he was in control?

Replacing the phone on the charger, Jean-Claude rose to his feet. There was no reason to linger here. He wasn’t getting anything done anyway. He thought of Asher back at the Circus and longed to go to him for solace. Maybe he would have some insight as to what Jean-Claude could do to smooth things out with Anita. It would be difficult to say the least with her being as far away as she was.

*****

Chapter Eight

Asher wasn’t at the Circus of the Damned when Jean-Claude returned and belatedly, he realized Asher was probably unhappy with him as well and had left.

Paris was there however. She greeted Jean-Claude in a cream-colored negligee as he came into the living room. She was smiling brightly and eagerly sidled up to him. Her behavior reminded Jean-Claude of an overly-affectionate puppy’s that had been left alone too long. Considering Paris’ duel nature, the irony of the similarity was not lost on the vampire. If she presently had been sporting a tail, he was certain it would be wagging zealously.

Indifferent to her cheerfulness, Jean-Claude regarded her passively and continued on to his bedroom. It didn’t surprise him that she trotted after him.

“You’re back early,” Paris announced, insisting on helping Jean-Claude out of his jacket. “I was told you’d be gone the rest of the night.”

There was something in the tone of her voice that told Jean-Claude she was now under the impression he’d returned early to be with her.

Tactfully, he cleared his throat. “I will not need you the remainder of the night,” he said as gently as he could. “I wish to be left alone. You may leave.”

After all, there was any number of enjoyable things he could do alone. Masturbate, for one. He’d think of Anita wearing a negligee much like the one Paris was wearing, sliding her full round breasts over his bare abdomen, the hard points of her nipples tickling his skin as she descended to her knees in front of him. Jean-Claude choked back an audible moan. He shifted his weight to one leg to relieve the pressure he was suddenly feeling between them.

Paris’ smile twitched as if on the verge of collapsing entirely. “Are you sure? You barely took two sips from my arm earlier. I thought you might want to…” her eyes wandered to his bed, “…get into it a little more.”

Jean-Claude opened his mouth to speak, and then paused as his mind flooded with images of the two of them tangled in his sheets with their limbs and bodies intimately entwined. His face was buried in Paris’ long, tanned neck as he fed with uninhibited zeal, from her blood as well as her body, his hips pumping hers with practiced rhythm that made her moan in ecstasy.

These new images came to him so unexpectedly, for a moment, Jean-Claude wondered if the thoughts were actually his. Perhaps there was a little more power in Paris’ suggestion than simple persuasion. Now he gazed at her somewhat suspiciously, reaching out with his senses to draw in any traces of preternatural enchantment. Feeling nothing, he calmed, and dismissed his erotic mental meandering as simply missing Anita. He did miss her, that was obvious.

“No,” Jean-Claude pronounced definitively. “I’m fine, thank you. Now…please leave.”

But even as he spoke those words, something came over him again and his body seemed to cry out in protest. The temptation to take Paris up on her offer lingered in his mind. They were completely alone in the privacy of his own bedroom where he could lock the door, far from clicking cameras and jealous lovers.

Obediently, Paris turned to leave, but Jean-Claude stayed her with his hand on her arm. She looked back at him with wide-eyed innocence.

“Yes Master?” she asked, that smoky, sultry voice of hers sending shivers down Jean-Claude’s spine.

Jean-Claude stared deeply into her eyes. He drew her closer, wrapping his arms around her back, locking her body against his.

“I am your master,” he whispered, feeling suddenly intoxicated by the musky perfume she was wearing. He nuzzled her neck, grazing his aching fangs along her throbbing veins. His hands roved her curves with increasing enthusiasm.

“Oh, yes,” Paris sighed back. Her hands slid up Jean-Claude’s arms as she pressed her full, round breasts into his chest.

The negligee she was wearing was flimsy and thin. Jean-Claude only meant to move the neckline aside, but instead, cleanly rent the fabric apart, exposing a fair amount of flawless, golden skin underneath. Pushing the negligee’s strap down her arm, Jean-Claude dragged his mouth along her bared shoulder.

Paris pulled away from him, pirouetting around him and urging him closer to the silk-adorned bed.

“I do need you,” Jean-Claude said in a barely audible voice. He stepped towards her outstretched arms, wanting only to wallow in the heat of her voluptuous form.

“Then take me,” Paris responded breathily. “I’m your pomme de sang, Jean-Claude. I’m here exclusively for your pleasure. Use me tonight and you’ll be fulfilled beyond your need.” She was already undressing in anticipation, pulling the torn negligee over her head.

Jean-Claude watched momentarily mesmerized as she shimmied out of her lace panties, but then he realized he‘d yet to take anything of his own off. He quickly unbuttoned his shirt and forcefully pulled it off. Paris playfully kicked her panties aside and Jean-Claude unzipped his pants.

How much easier his existence would be if Paris were his lover instead of Anita, Jean-Claude thought unexpectedly. She was so uninhibited and willing to please. She would obey him without question and be available to him every hour of the night.

Just as suddenly at that train of thought began, it screeched to a halt. His rationality came thundering back into his senses like a sword-wielding warrior, hacking away the cloudy nonsense. Easier, maybe, but since when was a love worth having easy? It was Anita he loved. Paris was nice and agreeable, but he certainly didn’t love her, and would never replace Anita with her. Where in the world had such thoughts come from? It was as if his mind was being steered in directions it had never been before. His gaze fell fully upon Paris as his eyes widened with newfound understanding. It occurred to him that he was being influenced by her somehow.

It was then he felt it. Paris’ power emanated so strongly from her now, it was almost visible. Stunned, Jean-Claude wondered how he could have possibly missed detecting it before. Perhaps she had simply been subtly nudging his mind before, disguising her power as temptation, but she was practically shoving his mind now. Clearly this was something she wanted badly. Maybe she had felt his resistance and realized subtly was not going to work for her in this instance.

The recognition of the werewolf’s power seemed to be all he needed to ward it off. Its effect faded from him, leaving him somewhat dazed and mortified by what he’d been about to do.

As Jean-Claude continued to ponder these new possibilities, Paris shed the remainder of her clothes and crawled unabashedly onto the bed. Her gaze was smoldering with seduction and she writhed with wanton desire against the pillows.

Jean-Claude stopped in his tracks and closed his eyes momentarily. He cleared his mind and took a deep, cleansing breath. When he opened his eyes, he knew he no longer felt aroused by the beautiful naked woman on the bed awaiting his carnal pursuit of her. Paris had been manipulating him--probably all along, but he kept dismissing it as simply being a bit randy since Anita left.

Just as Jean-Claude was about to reaffirm his initial rejection of Paris and send her back to her room, Asher came into the bedroom, reminding Jean-Claude that he’d been so fascinated under Paris’ power, he’d forgotten to lock the door.

Asher took one look at the woman on the bed and then at Jean-Claude’s present state of undress, and scowled at his friend deeply.

“I came to tell you that I spoke with Anita tonight,” Asher began, putting his hands on his slender hips. “She’s quitting the seminar and coming home. She’s flying out early tomorrow evening. Apparently she talked to you tonight, and was not very pleased by what you had to say.” Asher paused, then reached up and dragged his hand through his long hair, pushing his bangs from his face. “What are you doing?”

“It’s not what you think,” Jean-Claude stated, bowing his head. Despite his innocence, he was unable to look Asher in the eye. He didn‘t want to see the disapproval in them. Sweeping Paris’ discarded lingerie up in his arms, he tossed them on the bed and gestured at the door. “Leave now.” His tone of voice left no room for argument.

Not bothering to dress, Paris obediently gathered her clothes, and stalked out the door, frowning at Asher as she passed by him. Clearly he had thwarted her intentions.

Once alone with Asher, Jean-Claude turned and drifted towards the bed. He sat down on the edge of the mattress feeling somewhat relieved by Paris‘ departure. He was going to have to be very careful around her from now on.

“I think I interrupted something I was not supposed to see,” Asher continued. He walked over to the bed and stood in front of Jean-Claude. Brusquely he took hold of his jaw and forced him to look up at him. “It is entirely your business if you want to hook-up with la loupe, mon ami. I am not one to judge, so you needn’t look so ashamed. I only find it odd, that after proclaiming such steadfast devotion to your true love time and time again, you take every opportunity privacy presents you to indulge in a little extracurricular activity with that woman.”

Jean-Claude twisted free of Asher’s grasp. “You should find it odd,” Jean-Claude snapped back. “Haven’t you wondered why every time I find myself alone with Paris, I’m overwhelmed with desire for her--how I cannot seem to control myself?”

His expression softening, Asher seemed to consider this. “She is sexy, Jean-Claude. And it has been awhile since you and Anita…”

“You and I both know once I existed over six months without Anita’s embrace--completely without infidelity I might add. I had to practically scrounge for power, yet I wasn’t tempted to indulge myself even once in her absence. She’s been gone for just a little over a week this time. Yet this is the second time in that week that I’ve found my loyalty to her compromised.”

Asher raised his brow, his gaze drawn to the door through which Paris grudgingly exited. “Do you think Paris used some kind of power on you?”

Jean-Claude nodded. “I felt it finally, only moments before you entered the room. She hides it and it would seem she only releases it when she is sure it can be masked as something else. I used to do the same thing--hiding from the more powerful vampires. My masters never suspected a thing since they believed me more or less powerless, and therefore, harmless. I did it to protect myself from being challenged. Paris seems to hide hers to seduce unsuspecting prey.”

“It does make sense in a way,” Asher decided.

“Of course it does!” Jean-Claude confirmed. “She too easily seduced me. And I think you too, mon ami. I should have suspected something wrong then. Like you, I dismissed it as simply being in need due to Anita’s absence, but our fair Paris is more cunning than I initially gave her credit for.” He paused, rising from the bed and stalked about the room in agitation, his mind racing as new revelations came to light. “Anita tried to warn me of Paris’ ploys, but I dismissed it all as being in need. I realize now, I must have made it sound as if the only thing influencing me was testosterone. It is no wonder Anita is so angry.” He paused again to face Asher, suddenly recalling what Asher had announced. “She is coming home?”

Oui,” Asher said with a slight smile.

Jean-Claude smiled too, but then quickly followed it with a deep frown. “Mon Dieu, she probably won’t even want to see me.”

“This business with the photographer has obviously upset her,” Asher went on quietly. “But she clearly suspected Paris’ nefarious ways long before you did, Jean. Maybe convincing her that you were be-spelled won‘t be too terribly difficult.”

Coming to stand in front of Asher, Jean-Claude shook his head dubiously. “If I suddenly tell her I was being enchanted, she’ll think I am only lying to her to smooth things out between us, and she’ll be suspicious. I doubt she’ll believe me unless I tell her about tonight as well.”

“Oh, non, non, non,“ Asher scolded. “That would not be a very good idea, mon ami. Those newspaper pictures are damning enough.“

“What then?“ Jean-Claude asked flatly. His whole body felt mired in hopelessness.

Sighing, Asher reached out and pulled Jean-Claude into his arms as if sensing his friend‘s need for support. He hugged him reassuringly and dropped a light kiss on his brow.

“Perhaps, if Anita saw it with her own eyes,” Asher began thoughtfully. “She’d feel the power coming over you. She’d see you lose control and know all is not well--that it is not a simple case of just you being sexually aroused by the proverbial ’other woman’.”

Jean-Claude leaned back far enough to stare into Asher’s eyes with complete incredulity. “You’re joking. Aren’t you?”

However, Asher’s mind seemed off and running now. He released Jean-Claude from his embrace, but took his hand and drew him over to the bed. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, Asher pulled Jean-Claude down beside him.

“Listen to me,” he continued eagerly. “It will work. Anita will not hold you responsible if she can feel how you are being influenced.”

Jean-Claude shook his head adamantly. “How is that better than simply telling her about what happened tonight?”

“Because if you do that, the only thing she’ll have to go on is your word,” Asher argued. “And that, presently, isn’t exactly golden to Anita. This way, she’ll experience the power too. She‘ll know, without any doubt.”

Moaning, Jean-Claude massaged his eyes roughly. His head felt about to burst. One disastrous scenario after another played out in his brain, faster and faster, until they blended together into a single combustible mass.

“I can’t. I can’t.”

Asher frowned, reaching up to stroke Jean-Claude’s hair. “It is the only way to convince her, Jean-Claude. You must agree to this.”

“I can’t,” Jean-Claude repeated. “What if I actually lose control during this…demonstration? What if I accost that woman right in front of Anita? Do you honestly believe Anita will rationalize something like that out, despite what alien power she feels?” The master vampire dropped his hand from his eyes and faced Asher. “She never goes anywhere without her personal arsenal, Asher. I would not put it past her to draw one of those weapons, and I don’t want anyone getting killed over this--namely me.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Asher regarded Jean-Claude coolly. “Why are you so concerned about losing your control? You stopped yourself tonight. …Or, so you said.”

Veering as far away from Asher as he could without rising, Jean-Claude narrowed his eyes at him in a blatant display of indignation. “I would not lie about such a thing, and you know that.”

Asher’s own eyes flashed in anger. “If I hadn’t entered the room when I did, how do I know for certain you would not have proceeded with your original intent? There is only so much temptation a man can endure before he breaks. Look at you, Jean. You’re half-starved with need as it is. I understand. You thought you were going to be alone with her tonight….” Asher rose from the bed and peered over his shoulder at Jean-Claude with an insinuatingly sly smile. “I said before, I would not have blamed you.”

Jean-Claude shot to his feet and spun Asher around to face him straight on. “How dare you imply that? I confide in you and you throw my trust back in my face.”

Asher grasped Jean-Claude’s head in his large hands. “It will be the same with Anita, mon ami! She will not believe you if you just tell her. You will need to show her. The reality of the situation will force her to lay her blame correctly--on the wolf. Not you. None of this is your fault. Except that you haven’t fed properly in over a week. Fool.” He cuffed Jean-Claude’s cheek amiably, then leaned forward and kissed him softly. “I’ll back you up. I’ll be right there should anything go wrong.”

Jean-Claude sighed heavily in acquiescence. Asher was right. There was no other way, but he couldn’t help worry regardless.

“Don’t fret so, cheri,” Asher consoled, whispering into Jean-Claude’s ear. “Everything is going to be all right.”

Jean-Claude couldn‘t help but smile feeling tingles from Asher’s cool breath against his skin dance their way down his spine. He pressed himself against the other vampire and settled his head on his chest.

“That is my favorite phrase of yours,” Jean-Claude whispered back. He slid his hand up Asher’s neck and tangled his fingers in his thick golden hair, drawing his face down to his for another kiss. “When you tell me everything is going to be all right in that oh-so-sexy voice of yours, you make my heart melt.”

Asher grinned rakishly. “I know.”

His mouth fell over Jean-Claude’s and settled comfortably on his full lips. Asher’s kiss was hungry, sensual and virile all at once. There was no denying its seduction. Jean-Claude felt it keenly between his legs. As his passion flared, he drew Asher back to the bed, and urged him down, across the mattress. They had hours before dawn this time. And this time, he had taken blood.

*****

Chapter Nine

Richard arrived at the Circus just a little after seven the following night. He was late, but at least he came as Jean-Claude had requested. Jamil accompanied him but that was to be expected. Richard never went far without at least one of his bodyguards along. Despite the fact he had made it clear they wouldn’t be necessary, Jean-Claude couldn’t fault him. The last time the master vampire had ventured out on his own, he wound up in the newspapers, and as a result, in his present predicament with Anita.

As the Ulfric entered the general manager’s office, he locked eyes with the vampire seated behind the desk and gave him a scowl of disapproval. It merely made Jean-Claude sigh. He was beyond exasperation tonight.

“Thank you for coming so promptly,” Jean-Claude greeted him with a hint of sarcasm. His eyes darted to the clock on the wall, but it was a minor infraction of the wolf’s, and not worth dwelling on.

Richard only scowled harder as Jamil settled himself against the wall beside the door. “You made it sound urgent,” the Ulfric replied, not catching the jab, or subtly countering with his own. “I don’t usually make house calls otherwise.”

Jean-Claude folded his hands on his desk and leaned forward slightly, ready to get down to business. “In a sense, it is urgent. Quite simply, I need blood.”

It was almost amusing for Jean-Claude to watch the way Richard’s jaw slackened and dropped upon hearing what he‘d said. Richard seemed too stunned to respond at first, standing in the middle of the office with his hands on his hips, completely immobile. Then he practically exploded.

“And just what the hell is that supposed to mean? You better not say what I think you’re going to say, because I swear, Jean-Claude, I will pull you out from behind that desk and throw you through that wall.”

Unfazed, Jean-Claude raised his chin and peered down his nose at the werewolf arrogantly. “It is the least you can do considering I’ve been unable to properly feed for over a week now and it is entirely your fault.”

Now Richard closed his eyes and blew out his breath through his clenched teeth. His body slumped some, as if suddenly deflated. “Oh my God. We’re back to this again? Paris? Just tell me. What is it this time?”

Pleased that Richard had taken his bait, Jean-Claude smiled and waved the Ulfric to a chair. “Sil vous plait, mon ami, have a seat. Let me start from the beginning--when I went to you at the Lunatic Café and asked that you assign someone else to…provide for Asher and me. I knew even then, Paris would cause problems for me and I was certain you were aware of this too. Yet you were unmoved by my plight. You turned me down on the assumption I had no grounds to refuse Paris. Do you recall that meeting, by chance?”

Richard looked less and less happy. He finally sat down in the chair Jean-Claude had directed him to as if resigned to a lengthier stay than he had originally hoped for.

“Yes. What are you getting at?”

“Patience, Richard,” Jean-Claude said. “If I’ve any hope of persuading you to offer me your veins, then I shall need to make you aware of the details.” He smiled at Richard, confident the wolf would have no choice but to give into his demands after hearing about Paris.

“Well, get on with it then,” Richard grumbled back. His eyes dropped to the floor and he kicked at the leg of his chair like a restless child.

Jean-Claude readily continued, quickly explaining in detail what happened in the park at the bus stop and then what had occurred in his bedroom last night. He told him about the newspaper pictures and Anita. (He was pressed for time after all. Anita should be arriving within the hour.)

Richard looked up finally, but didn’t seem particularly taken aback by anything Jean-Claude had just told him. “Your guilt over Paris is your problem, Jean-Claude,” he said coolly. “I’m not about to be blamed because she’s hot and you were tempted to take things to the next level with her. If you can’t deal with the reality of your feelings, than don’t come crying on my doorstep just because you were naughty and Anita’s pissed about it now.”

A simmering anger rose in the vampire at Richard’s insinuating words. “Remember, mon ami, you are on MY doorstep tonight. I did not come to you seeking an amiable amends this time. I brought you here to stand before me. Tonight you are here to beg my forgiveness for the gross negligence which you’ve shown in presenting me with Paris as my pomme de sang--not to mention the danger she posed to our triumvirate’s bond by using her powers on me for the purpose of sabotaging my relationship with Anita. She is of your pack and therefore, as her Ulfric, I hold you ultimately responsible. I think a little blood sacrifice on your part is the least you can offer me.”

Rising to his feet, Richard held up his hands as if to ward off Jean-Claude’s tirade of accusations. He shook his head as if denying it all.

“It’s true,” Jean-Claude went on, standing up as well. He stepped out from behind the desk and stalked slowly towards Richard. “I felt her power come over me last night in the bedroom. I had initially suspected something beyond my uncharacteristic behavior around her, but I also admit I was in vulnerable states both times and consequently dismissed her influences as my need to properly feed.” He paused, coming to stand in front of the werewolf close enough to make Richard awkwardly edge backwards. “I agree Paris is lovely to look at and very sexy, but to be honest, so is Jason. When I approach Jason, I am also hungry and vulnerable, but Jason does not use his power to tempt me to bed him every time we are alone together.”

Richard gnawed his lower lip, seemingly struggling to digest in his mind what Jean-Claude was saying. “Are you sure about this? I mean, c’mon, Jean-Claude. There are times when even a human female’s seduction of a man seems almost supernatural. Something comes over a guy when he sees a sexy woman and he just stops thinking with his head and starts thinking with his dick. Why do you think men are caught cheating on wives all the time? It’s like they can’t help themselves, but that doesn’t mean any preternatural spells were cast.”

Jean-Claude rolled his eyes in exasperation. “On one hand, it’s a viable argument, mon ami, but on the other hand, it is me we are talking about. I am approached by sexy, beautiful women on a nightly basis at my clubs. They proposition me constantly. I am more than aware of the difference in the way I am affected by such temptations that they pose.” Jean-Claude stepped forward closer to Richard. “If you don’t believe me, ask Asher. He too lost his inhibitions under Paris’ power that first night.”

Richard peered down into Jean-Claude’s eyes and took a deep breath. “Fine. Where is Asher?”

Jean-Claude licked his lips in anticipation. He knew it was only a matter of moments now. “Asher is at home. I’d rather he not know about our little meeting tonight. He and I have arranged for a demonstration of Paris’ influence to Anita, as we are certain she will resist my proclamation of innocence even more than you. He believes it is best for me to remain vulnerable to Paris’ complete influence in order to convince Anita. However, in order to maintain control over my senses during this presentation, I need to properly feed. I need my power restored to full capacity and beyond. I need to be allowed your blood. You are one-third of my triumvirate. You are my animal to call. I need the power of your blood, Richard, if I’ve any hope at all of being exonerated tonight in Anita’s eyes. I can’t afford the possibility that Paris may be capable of tempting me into doing something I’d rather not do--especially in front of Anita. I’ll let Paris think she has control over me, but before I succumb to her completely, I want to be sure I will be able to stop myself.”

“I didn’t know, Jean-Claude,” Richard told him, sounding as forthright as the boy scout Anita always accused him of being. “Paris is ambitious, but I didn’t think she’d try anything as blatant as this. I’ll make sure she’s punished. Will that make this right?”

Slowly Jean-Claude shook his head. “Blood,” he stated simply. “Your blood. That’s all the amends I require.”

Sighing heavily, Richard tugged at the collar of his shirt, loosening it. He tilted his head to the side and squeezed his eyes shut. “Deal,” he answered threw gritted teeth.

Jean-Claude smiled widely, exposing his fangs. He wrapped his arm around Richard’s shoulders drawing his hard, curvy body tightly against his. Breathing in the heady, masculine scent of the Ulfric’s skin, Jean-Claude stroked the side of Richard’s face a few times, dragging his mouth along the wolf’s jaw line.

“Relax mon ami. This won’t hurt a bit.” With that, the vampire sunk his teeth deeply into Richard’s muscular neck and closed his eyes in sheer bliss as the hot, preternatural blood poured down his throat.

 

*****

Chapter Ten

Jean-Claude entered his living room with a niggling sense of déjà vu. There was no one around. Apparently, Micah and Anita hadn’t arrived yet. In a way, that was good. The plan was for Jean-Claude to be thusly engaged with Paris when Anita walked in. But then Jean-Claude couldn’t help think that maybe the Nimir-Raj was having problems convincing Anita to come see him. And Asher--where on earth was he? He was supposed to back Jean-Claude up in case things became chaotic. However, Jean-Claude only felt one presence in the entire household. Paris was sitting alone in her quarters until summoned, just as she‘d been instructed to do.

Tentatively, Jean-Claude made his way to the rooms on the opposite end of the hall from his. Stopping in front of Paris’ door, he took a deep, steadying breath and knocked lightly with his knuckles. When she called out for him to enter, she startled him as if he hadn‘t really been expecting her to answer. He didn’t understand why he was acting jittery. There certainly was no reason to be. He was in complete control this time, and felt confident--better than he had in days with Richard’s powerful blood coursing through his veins.

Opening the door slowly, Jean-Claude peered into the room before entering. Paris was apparently packing. She was stuffing a pair of cropped pink pants into a small duffle bag when Jean-Claude came up beside her. He caught her sniffling and quickly wiping her damp cheeks with her wrist as if she didn‘t want him to know she was crying.

“So you do have clothing,” Jean-Claude said dryly, gesturing at her bag.

Paris nodded, turning her face away from him. “Yeah, I brought some just in case I needed them.”

She didn‘t catch Jean-Claude‘s sarcasm and Jean-Claude knew her response was meant literally. She probably fully believed she would not need clothes during her stay here. It made him wonder about his reputation among the lukoi.

“Are you going somewhere?” he asked softly, changing the subject.

Paris gaped at him with a surprised look on her face. “I thought you knew!”

Jean-Claude shrugged innocently. “Tell me.”

“Well, Jason’s on his way back. He called me from the airport. The plane was delayed and they all had to catch a later flight, but he’ll be here sometime tonight.” She sniffed again and paused to chew her lower lip, scraping off a chunk of bright red lipstick with her teeth as she did. “Since no one extended the welcome mat to me, I just assumed I best be on my way out. Asher didn’t even come to me tonight.” Paris lowered her eyes. “I think I made him jealous yesterday. I think he’s mad at me. I thought you were mad at me too. You seemed pretty embarrassed when he caught us….”

Jean-Claude shook his head, recalling the zest with which Asher had made love to him the previous night afterwards, and smiled somewhat coyly. “Non, I can assure you, all is well between the two of us.”

Paris offered him a trembly smile in return. “I know you two are an item.” Her smile dissolved suddenly and her brow wrinkled in distaste. “I’m just surprised your prissy girlfriend allows it.”

“We believe Anita is aware of our…intimacy,” Jean-Claude replied defensively. “We do not flaunt it in front of her however and it does not preoccupy her.”

Paris grinned again. “Don’t ask, don’t tell, right? Well, you know, I don’t mind it in the least. I think it’s hot when two guys get it on.”

Jean-Claude cleared his throat tactfully, ready to change the subject again. “Did Jason give you any specifics on his time of arrival?”

“No. He just told me to get his sheets changed and have the room tidied after I left. I suppose he’ll show up soon.”

“You could have taken one of the guest quarters,” Jean-Claude pointed out. “Then perhaps you wouldn’t feel as if you had to leave so abruptly.”

Paris shook her head slowly and batted her eyelashes at Jean-Claude flirtatiously. “I asked him if I could have his room,” she informed the master vampire. “I wanted to be as close to you as possible.”

Jean-Claude was too busy mulling over his own words to hear Paris’ however. He shouldn’t care if she was leaving abruptly. He should be pleased. He certainly couldn’t afford any more of the trouble she caused. What had made him say that to her? Wasn’t he simply being polite? He hated having these doubts.

Stepping away from her, Jean-Claude moved towards the bed and sat down, perching on the edge. He looked up at Paris suspiciously, but could not feel anything coming from her yet. Anxiously, he wondered if he was supposed to start the seduction or wait. If Anita’s plane was delayed, she wasn’t going to be arriving when he’d anticipated and who knew when she was due in. As it was, Anita had been shielding from him for days. He wouldn’t be able to feel if she were near him or not. Where was Asher? However, if Jean-Claude wasn’t to the point he needed to be with Paris when Anita did arrive, the plan would not work. He tried to calculate a typical airport delay and silently cursed Anita for not taking him up on his offer to use his private jet. At least she would have gotten back on time….

He suddenly became aware of the fact Paris had seated herself beside him on the bed. He looked over at her and reached up to catch a single teardrop sliding down her cheek. There was something quite poignant to him about a woman’s tears.

“Why are you crying?”

Unexpectedly, Paris turned her face away from Jean-Claude’s hand. “Don’t touch me, please,” she said. “It only makes this harder when you’re being nice to me. I’d rather you yell at me or something. I know I got you into trouble with Anita. I saw our pictures in the papers.”

“Yes, well….Why do you want to stay here so badly?” Jean-Claude asked. He thought he knew why, but wanted to hear what Paris would tell him.

Paris sighed heavily and wiped roughly at her watering eyes. “Why do you think Jason stays here? I want to stay here for the same reasons. I don’t get treated very well in the pack ‘cause I’m not very powerful. I’ve got no one looking out for me, you know. Richard doesn’t pay any attention to me. I’m just one of his wolves. Well, I don’t want to be just one of the wolves. I want to be special and I know your pomme de sangs are treated like royalty. You protect them and provide for them. They live in the lap of luxury and all they have to do is make themselves available to you and whoever you choose to share them with or assign them to. It’s an easy life.”

Jean-Claude lowered his eyes and picked absently at a bit of lint on the hem of his lace cuff. “I’ve nothing to offer you, Paris, despite what you believe. I--” Further words got caught in his throat when he felt Paris’ warm hand light on his arm.

“I know about your ardeur, Jean-Claude and if you were to keep me, I’d be there for you every time. I love the feel of a vampire’s bite. I love the sensuality of it all. And let’s face it, you are sexy as hell and what girl wouldn’t want to put out for you every night. I’d make a good pomme for you, I know I would.”

There was no power behind Paris’ gentle grasp, but Jean-Claude felt loathed to pull away from her. The heat from her palm warmed the skin beneath his clothing and made him think of the heat radiating from her body in the coldness of the room. It was an innocent enough thought. There was no influence to it. Hadn’t he snuggled up to Richard’s warmth while feeding from him earlier tonight? How was this any different?

“I’m sure you would make a good pomme, but as you know, I already have a pomme and have every intention of keeping him. He and I have become fast friends and are entirely devoted to one another. Such fond feelings are necessary between vampire and pomme and without them, the trust needed for such a relationship will not work. It may sound harsh to you now, but I have no feelings for you, Paris. None whatsoever.”

Paris leaned forward. “I could make you fall in love with me, Jean-Claude, if you’d only give me the chance.” Her lips parted slightly and as she turned her head, obviously to kiss him, her eyes fluttered shut and her hand moved like smoke up his arm.

Jean-Claude’s senses shifted and while he was expecting to feel Paris’ seductive power descend, it was a sense of Anita he experienced instead. She was close, but her presence was too vague to tell just how close. His keen ears detected the sound of a commotion of sorts; faintly, just beyond his doors. Was she that close?

Meanwhile, Paris had settled her lips over his and was kissing him rather deeply, but Jean-Claude had been too lost in thought to respond in any way. At first he nearly panicked and thought to push Paris away, but if Anita was nearing, he realized he needed Paris to feel comfortable enough to unleash her power. Determinedly, he kissed her back.

Paris moaned and thrust her warm, slick tongue into Jean-Claude’s mouth. She pricked it on one of his fangs, but continued kissing him even harder. The sweet coppery taste of her blood languidly coated the insides of his mouth, momentarily putting Jean-Claude’s mind into a feeding zone, but he quickly snapped out of it and focused on the task at hand. Maybe he was making this too easy for her, he thought belatedly. Surely, she wouldn’t use her power on him if she didn’t feel she needed to. He pushed Paris away.

Non, I cannot,” he protested, but licked the remnants of blood from his lips. Dragging his eyes up and down Paris’ shapely form with undisclosed lust in his eyes, Jean-Claude leaned away from her. “I want you, cherie, but you are forbidden fruit to me.”

“I’m not forbidden to you!” Paris exclaimed, running her hands over his chest. “You’re the Master of the City! Nothing is forbidden to you!”

This wasn’t working, Jean-Claude thought wryly. Paris had yet to use her power, nothing physical was happening between them, and Anita was getting closer by the second. He briefly considered more resistance, but then thought if Paris believed she may have a chance with him, she may seek to influence him.

Covering her hands with his, Jean-Claude faced Paris and captured her mouth in a devouring kiss. He ran her palms over his nipples and felt the first tremors of arousal tingle through his body. It occurred to him that perhaps Paris needed to feel this untainted arousal first before releasing her power in order to mask it with it.

Closing his eyes, Jean-Claude summoned up a raunchy fantasy of Anita and him in his mind. He used Paris’ body to make it as real to him as possible and was soon feeling passionate enough to forget who he was actually caressing. It brought him back to that night on the bus stop bench. He had been aroused then because he had been inhaling Asher’s scent, thinking of Anita and feeling the soft material of her dress filled out beneath his hands. The night before, he had been thinking of Anita in the negligee Paris had been wearing and had become aroused then.

Jean-Claude waited, but strangely enough, the sense of Paris’ power never came. They were certainly getting into it enough, rolling around on the bed, and kissing each other with growing aggression. Paris had managed to wiggle out of her top and presently lay beneath Jean-Claude in just a skimpy brassiere and an extremely short denim skirt.

Jean-Claude was determined to stay aroused to prompt Paris into influencing him, but he was steadily getting more and more frustrated with each passing minute, in more ways than one. Anita was getting closer; so close in fact he could faintly hear her voice now, along with the clicking of her heels on the stone floor in between the carpets. Jason was with her. It was only a matter of minutes and they’d be here.

Panic suddenly seized Jean-Claude at the last minute and he tore himself away from Paris’ vice-like grip and leapt to the other side of the room just as the door opened and Anita and Jason stepped in.

Cursing prolifically in his mind, Jean-Claude rubbed the smeared lipstick from his mouth and quickly righted his disheveled shirt.

“Holy crap,” Jason said, his eyes wide in disbelief. He looked at Paris, sprawled half-naked on his bed, and then to Jean-Claude, and then to Anita, who was standing at the doorway with her arms folded across her chest.

Anita’s eyes were fixed solely on Paris. She wouldn’t look at Jean-Claude, but considering the expression of rabid disgust she wore, Jean-Claude wasn’t sure he wanted her to look at him.

“You, out,” Anita growled with absolute authority.

Paris swore under her breath, collecting her top from the corner of the mattress and rose to her feet. “Not again!” she protested, sounding totally frustrated herself. “Somebody’s always walking in on us right before we get to the good stuff.” She grabbed her duffle bag, pushed past Anita, and stormed out.

Now Anita turned her eyes on Jean-Claude. She pointed to the curve of her chin. “Right there. You missed a spot,” she seethed and having said that, she turned and strode out of the room.

“Nice going, Ace,” Jason said to his master. He gestured after Anita towards the hall. “You know I spent all day today and the entire time on the plane convincing her to hear your side of the story about those pictures in the paper. She didn’t want to come here, but Micah and I talked her into it. We told her she’d feel better once she saw you. Well, I guess that theory was a bust.”

Jean-Claude sighed heavily. Things couldn’t have gone more wrong. Why hadn’t Paris used her power on him? He had provided her with all the ingredients she needed. Jean-Claude didn’t understand what had happened. The only thing he had successfully accomplished tonight was making Anita doubt him even more.

“This was not what it appeared to be,” Jean-Claude told Jason. “Things just didn’t go as planned.”

Jason’s expression softened from perhaps seeing the completely nonplussed look on Jean-Claude’s face. His master never looked confused or lost. It seemed to prick his sentimentality, for he went to Jean-Claude and took his hand in his. He pulled Jean-Claude over to the bed and urged him to sit down.

“What’s really going on, Jean-Claude? You want to talk about it?” the young wolf offered.

Jean-Claude shook his head. “Not now.” He slipped free from Jason’s grasp and headed for the door. “I’ll explain it to you later.” He had to find Anita and explain to her first. He shot down the hallway, determined to catch her.

*****

Chapter Eleven

Anita had managed to get all the way to the Circus’ parking lot before Jean-Claude caught up with her. Micah had joined her somewhere along the way and was more or less begging her to tell him what had happened inside. Anita remained stubbornly silent, walking ahead of him towards their Jeep.

Micah turned towards Jean-Claude as the vampire approached and asked the same questions of him, but like Anita, Jean-Claude was too focused on getting to her before she drove off to stop to explain.

Ma Petite please,” Jean-Claude said somewhat breathlessly upon reaching her. He intercepted her path and reached for her hands, but Anita jerked away from him and gave him a clear look of warning.

“Leave me alone if you know what’s good for you, Jean-Claude,” she said, her voice flat and emotionless, despite the myriad of emotions he knew she was feeling.

“Hit me if it will make you feel better. Beat me, kick me, anything, but just don’t leave here until I’ve had the chance to explain.”

Anita shook her head and moved to step around him. “Get out of my way.”

“No,” Jean-Claude retorted. “You have to listen to me. Hear what I have to say first. Then, if you still feel so inclined, you may leave.”

Anger flashed in Anita’s eyes. “I don’t have to do anything you say.”

Jean-Claude sighed. She was so close to him the urge to touch her was making his body ache with need, but he didn’t dare. Instead, he gestured back at the Circus. “What happened there was actually for your benefit. It was staged to prove something to you, but things didn’t go as we’d originally intended.”

Anita raised her brow in inquiry. “We?”

Jean-Claude’s heart banged inside his chest with hope. She was listening at least. “Asher and I,” he confessed. “We thought it may help you to understand what I’ve been subjected to these past few nights.”

At that, Anita smiled strangely. “Subjected to? You mean double D cups and those killer legs of hers? Oh you poor, poor thing!” She shoved past him and threw open the door to the Jeep, turning away from Jean-Claude to face Micah. “Are you coming?”

Micah climbed in the Jeep and mumbled something under his breath. He peered up at Jean-Claude with a helpless look and shrugged. Jean-Claude rolled his eyes.

It was useless. She was too angry right now. He would have to wait until she cooled down enough to listen to him. In a way, it was good she was leaving. He couldn’t bear having her so near and not be able to take her into his arms.

As Jean-Claude watched Anita drive away, he felt Asher standing a short distance behind him. He turned around and faced his friend with a clear look of exasperation on his face.

“Where may I ask have you been?” the master vampire snapped.

“Don‘t use that tone of voice with me, Jean-Claude,” Asher replied evenly. “I was stuck at Guilty Pleasures. There was a minor crisis that needed attention and since you were no where to be found earlier, I was forced to deal with the issue myself.” Asher looked past him at the departing vehicle. “I take it things did not go well with Anita.”

Jean-Claude sighed heavily and put his hands on his hips. “You could say that.”

Asher faced him again. “What happened?”

“In short, the only power Paris was using on me when Anita walked in on us was her feminine wiles.”

Asher’s brow furrowed in thought. “Perhaps knowing Anita was about, deterred her from summoning her power. Maybe she smelled our trap and didn’t let herself be ensnared in it.” He paused, his expression changing slightly as he regarded Jean-Claude. “Or maybe she couldn’t use her power on you.” He reached for Jean-Claude and pulled him closer. “You’ve fed. And you fed well. You’re warm and ruddy.” He raised a lock of Jean-Claude’s hair and sniffed it delicately. Then his eyes darkened with anger. “You’ve been with Richard!”

At first, Jean-Claude believed Asher’s irritation stemmed from the fact the blonde vampire had always had a thing for the Ulfric, but Asher wasn’t just jealous, he was clearly exasperated.

“I needed my strength back,” Jean-Claude explained as if confessing. “I could not confront Paris as vulnerable tonight as I have been these past few nights. I wanted to be in control of the situation.”

“Oh Jean-Claude! Why can’t you trust me?” Asher fumed. “You needed to be vulnerable tonight! But instead, you went to the one blood source that gave you ultimate immunity and power! Richard!” He threw up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “How was Anita to see you as impressionable as you have been if you’ve filled yourself with a master werewolf’s blood? You’re thrumming with his power. You don’t appear in need of anything now, yet you let Anita find you in the clutches of another woman you supposedly approached out of need. If Anita is pissed at you, I’m glad. You fucking deserve it!”

As if he couldn’t stand his friend’s proximity anymore, Asher turned from Jean-Claude and strode off, disappearing into the night’s shadows beyond the Circus’ bright lights.

Asher was right and Jean-Claude knew now, too late, he should have heeded Asher’s advice. Wanting to apologize, Jean-Claude started after him, and then stopped, remembering Jason down below. Reconciling with Asher would have to wait. Jean-Claude had to talk with the young wolf now, the sooner the better.

*****

Chapter Twelve

Jason was muttering to himself, crudely making up his bed when Jean-Claude entered his room. Without saying a word, the vampire took his pomme de sang’s hand and sat him down on the mattress with him.

Jason didn’t protest. He merely looked back at Jean-Claude expectantly.

“You knew Richard was replacing you with Paris,” the vampire stated more than asked his wolf.

The tension in Jason’s body was evident by the shifting of his grip in Jean-Claude’s hand. He sighed and then nodded slowly, as if reluctantly.

“Jean-Claude you’ve got to believe me!” he proclaimed. “It was a done deal when I found out about it. Paris called me to ask if she could use my room. She was already here. I know what kind of person she is, so I just gave her a crash course on you and Asher--I wanted her to be respectful. I knew she’d be an adjustment for you. I had no idea she’d cause this much trouble.”

As Jean-Claude mulled over his pomme de sang’s explanation, it seemed as if Jason was holding his breath. Finally realizing this, Jean-Claude offered him a small reassuring smile and reached up to trail his fingers affectionately down the young wolf’s face.

“It’s all right,” he told him. “I’m just glad to have you back.”

Jason visibly relaxed. “I’m glad to be back.”

Jean-Claude squeezed his hand. “Tell me something and be honest with me about it,” Jean-Claude continued solemnly. He could feel the returning tension in the young wolf’s grasp now and shook his head. “I promise not to get angry if you only be honest with me.”

Jason swallowed first, then summoned a shaky smile. “Okay. Shoot.”

Jean-Claude stared deeply in his wolf’s eyes. “Have you ever used your powers on me, to influence me when I am feeding from you? When I’m hungry and vulnerable to suggestions or…seduction?”

Blinking a few times as if he wasn’t sure he’d heard his master right, Jason looked stunned momentarily, then chuckled nervously, but upon realizing Jean-Claude was completely serious, he sobered quickly and shook his head resolutely. “God no! I wouldn’t dare.”

“Have you ever wanted to?”

Again, Jason shook his head, then he stopped himself. “There’s been times, I guess, when I wished I could get you to…do things I want, but I would never, never use my power to…seduce you. I couldn’t! Even if I wanted--you’re too strong. It’d have no effect, I’m sure. Besides, you know me. Subtlety is just not my style.”

Jean-Claude smiled at Jason warmly. “What about now?”

Jason looked startled and decidedly uncomfortable. “What…what about now?”

“I want you to make me kiss you.”

Laughing lightly, Jason shook his head. “I can’t.” He tried to pull his hand free of Jean-Claude’s grasp but the vampire tightened his grip and pulled Jason closer.

“You’re not even trying,” Jean-Claude said, his eyes taking on a sultry gleam. He parted his lips and leaned forward. “I know you can do better than this. If you want someone to kiss you, what do you normally do to get them to do so?”

Jason fidgeted slightly. “If it turns out that for some reason I’m able to do this, am I gonna get in trouble?”

Jean-Claude shook his head. “Non, mon ami. You will only get kissed.”

At that Jason grinned and licked his lips. He moved a little closer to the vampire and slowly turned his head. “Well, if you insist. I’ve heard you’re a hell of a good kisser, and I’m always game for a good kiss.” He nuzzled the vampire’s cheek and nibbled lightly down his jaw line, easing him back so Jean-Claude lay across the bed. Jason reached up and stroked his master’s long hair, gazing seductively into his eyes as he draped his body provocatively over Jean-Claude‘s. “I do want you to kiss me.” His mouth hovered poised just a hair’s breadth from Jean-Claude’s. He stretched out his tongue and traced it along the curve of his master’s full upper lip.

Jean-Claude closed his eyes and concentrated, but felt nothing beyond Jason’s rising lust. There was no power of influence in his desire that he could feel.

A moment passed, then Jean-Claude felt a moist, soft, heat on his mouth as Jason’s lips unexpectedly settled over his, making the vampire push him back.

“You weren’t supposed to kiss me!” Jean-Claude admonished Jason, rising from the bed.

Jason looked up at him flustered. “I couldn’t help myself! You’re too damned hot for your own good!”

Jean-Claude growled in frustration. “I felt nothing! You weren’t trying hard enough!”

Scrambling off the bed, Jason shook his head. “I did!” he protested. “I told you it wouldn’t work on you. You’re too powerful for me to influence. I was giving it all I had because I really did want that kiss, but my power just bounced back off you. You’re immune to me, Jean-Claude. I might as well be trying to get Richard to kiss me. There’s nothing impressionable about you right now.”

Intrigued, Jean-Claude faced Jason fully. “Why did you mention Richard just now?”

Jason looked back at his master wide-eyed and seemed to fumble momentarily for the right words to say. “I’m not sure. There’s a trace of his scent on you. It made me think of him.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Jean-Claude said, waving his hand through the air as if to erase that line of thought. “Why do you believe it would be so much more difficult to get Richard to kiss you instead of me?”

Jason frowned. “I’m assuming you don’t want me to state the obvious differences in sexual preferences here,” he began. He stared back at Jean-Claude, but when the master vampire didn’t reply, he continued. “Well, because Richard is my Ulfric. My power kind of comes from him in a way. There’s just no possible way he’d be affected by anything I did to him supernaturally.”

Jean-Claude sighed knowingly. “Merci. You’ve just answered the mystery I sought to solve.” Apparently Asher was right about Paris being unable to influence him. Especially with Richard’s blood coursing through his body.

A thought suddenly occurred to Jean-Claude that made him internally boil with anger. Surely Richard would have known this, and even though Jean-Claude had explained his intentions tonight, the Ulfric clearly did not see fit to warn him of the possible immunity to Paris’ power he was giving him.

Jason must have gotten a glimpse of Jean-Claude’s shifting mood as he took a step away from the vampire and cleared his throat tactfully.

“Are you going to clue me into what this is all about now?”

Jean-Claude turned his eyes fully on the young wolf. He said one word to explain everything. “Richard.”

Jason nodded, though it was unclear if he actually understood. However, when Jean-Claude turned and seemed to evaporate from the bedroom in his hast, Jason apparently knew better than to question him any further.

*****

Chapter Thirteen

“My congratulations to you, Richard, on winning this round, but mark my words, mon ami, there will be another round and another, and in the end, we shall see to who exactly claims the final victory.”

There was silence on the other end of the line and for a moment, Jean-Claude thought Richard might have hung up on him, but then he heard the Ulfric sigh heavily and swear under his breath.

“What are you going off about now, Jean-Claude? It’s three-fifteen in the morning and the living are usually sleeping this time of night in case you didn’t know.”

Jean-Claude tightened his grip on the phone. “Do not play the innocent with me! You are no more moral and upstanding than I am. You thrive on sex and fear and blood the same as I do. You’re a monster who does whatever it takes to get what you desire and if it means deception and betrayal, than so be it. Such things are clearly not below your ever fluctuating standards.”

“Will you just calm down a minute and tell me what the hell is wrong now?” Richard exclaimed, his voice rising over the phone.

“I know you don’t particularly care for me, but I had thought we had at least reached an understanding,” Jean-Claude went on. “A somewhat peaceful co-existence and level of tolerance for each other we could both live with. You are a part of me, Richard and we are bound together with a power that strengthens us when we choose to let it. Yet you continue to sabotage it every chance you get in all things great and small. You are hurting yourself by hurting me. Why can’t I make you understand that?”

“I helped you out tonight, Jean-Claude, plain and simple,” Richard went on somewhat wearily. “This is the thanks I get? You obviously have no idea what it took for me to let you bite me tonight.”

“You knew what you were doing,” Jean-Claude stated flatly. “That explains the ease with which I was able to persuade you.”

“Easy? All right, I guess you could say it was easy, but what else could I have done to make things right between us? After you explained everything to me, I understood. I had to do it. I thought I was helping out a friend.”

“A friend?” Jean-Claude snapped back. “Is this how you treat someone you refer to as a friend?”

Richard sighed again. “I really, don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

Jean-Claude paused and took a deep breath. Richard sounded so completely sincere. Was it possible he was telling the truth? Maybe he didn’t realize his blood would affect Paris’ power the way it had.

“Richard, your blood made me immune to Paris’ influence, but I didn’t realize my plan wasn’t working until it was too late. Anita walked in on Paris and me and having nothing to go by save the obvious, she assumed the worse. You made me too powerful tonight, mon ami. Whether it was your intention or not, I’m beginning to wonder now. I did not realize. How could you have? I should have listened to Asher.”

There was a prolonged moment of silence as if Richard was struggling to understand what Jean-Claude was saying.

“It wouldn’t matter if you were immune to her power or not, Jean-Claude,” he said at last. “Anita would still have felt it, even if it wasn’t working on you. No, Paris didn’t use her power. She knew better. Paris tricked you.”

Jean-Claude didn’t know what to say. Ultimately, this whole sordid mess was his doing. He had no one to blame but himself for everything. And of course, the overly amorous werewolf whose ambitions and cunning he grossly underestimated.

Richard went on. “She’ll be punished, I promise. We went through this power struggle with her in the pack once before. She didn’t get anywhere with it, so I guess she thought her best bet would be to move on to new territory, so to speak. Look, if I--” His words were cut off by the audible sound of a door bell chime. “Damn it, hold on. Someone is at the door now.”

Jean-Claude opened his mouth to speak, but realized Richard had already set the phone down and had gone to open the door. Resigned to being put on hold, Jean-Claude utilized his moments of solitude to compose a convincing apology to the Ulfric. He heard Richard open the door and greet whoever was there with an element of surprise in his voice. When Jean-Claude heard Anita reply, his heart sunk.

She had gone to Richard. She had chosen his company tonight. He would be the one she talked to. He would be the one she held and kissed and made love to.

Suddenly overcome with emotion, Jean-Claude quietly hung up the phone. He turned around just as Asher entered the room. Their eyes met for a brief second before Asher looked away. Jean-Claude tentatively stepped towards him.

“You were right,” Jean-Claude said softly. “I should not have fed. I should have listened to you. I am sorry.”

Asher shook his head. “Not tonight, Jean,” he said curtly. “Tonight you can sleep alone.” With that, he turned on his heel and disappeared down the dimly lit hallway.

Jean-Claude sighed. At the rate he was going, he’d soon need to list and check off one by one all those he had to make amends to.

*****

Chapter Fourteen

“Who’s sorry now?

Who’s sorry now?

Whose heart is aching…

For breaking each vow…?

Who’s sad and blue?

Who’s crying too?

Just like I cried over you…”

Connie Francis wailed over the sound system at the all-night florist shop down by the Riverfront as Jean-Claude finished writing out the sentiment card to go with the two dozen and one roses he was buying.

What a fitting song, Jean-Claude thought. He had always liked Connie Francis. She sung with such timeless despair in her voice, it never failed to touch him. More so now, as the classic sixties song seemed to stroke the pieces of his fractured vampire heart and caress it with the sympathy he felt he deserved.

He finished the card and read it over in his mind to see how it sounded. It said quite simply: When you’re ready, please let me explain. With love, Jean-Claude. Placing it carefully in the little envelope, he tucked in the flap and then handed it to the waiting sales clerk who was smiling so widely at him, the bottom half of her small face was nothing but teeth.

Jean-Claude sighed. She was probably expecting him to flirt with her. She obviously knew who he was, as did the other five women in the shop, all unabashedly ogling him from behind. He could feel their lust to such a degree, it almost made the confines of the small flower shop suffocating.

Tonight, Jean-Claude just wasn’t in the mood for any of this. Normally, he would have flirted. Normally he would have been dressed more provocatively when he went out among the public. Instead, he was dressed head to toe in black, with a high-collared long sleeve shirt and tight, but plain black jeans. It didn’t seem to matter to these women. He might as well have been naked the way they were leering.

“Trying to get out of the doghouse, huh?” the sales clerk asked, drawing Jean-Claude’s attention back across the counter.

Excusez-moi?” Jean-Claude answered automatically in French, sending a collective sigh of feminine appreciation throughout the shop.

Jean-Claude didn’t think it was possible, but the sales clerk smiled even wider. She leaned across the counter towards him and lowered her voice. “With Miss Blake! I saw the pictures in the newspaper. Poor thing.” She shook her head.

Jean-Claude wasn’t sure if her last comment was for him or Anita. Poor thing to have such a cad for a boyfriend. Or maybe, poor thing, those newspapers are shameless now a-days.

“I must say,” the clerk went on, as she wrapped the crystal vase in paper, “you certainly are better looking in person.” She giggled somewhat coyly, handing Jean-Claude the roses. “I hope you patch things up with your lady, but I also hope you come back and see us again real soon.”

Jean-Claude inclined his head graciously. “I shall,” he told her, letting a trickle of his power seep into his voice. It was enough to make his already enthralled audience practically swoon in rapture.

Quickly he exited the shop, chiding himself for giving into such whims at a time like this, but any man possessing even a fifth of his ego would have. Besides, his ego sorely needed some stroking lately. Anita still wasn’t even talking to him, and Asher stubbornly continued to avoid him. Jean-Claude had been left alone these past two nights, and from the way things were going, it appeared as if he’d be alone tonight too.

Cradling his roses in his arms, Jean-Claude retreated into his limousine and ordered his driver to Anita’s address. He doubted sincerely if she’d accept his flowers, but as they say, it was always the thought that counted.

On the way, Jean-Claude tried to piece together his explanation, paying careful attention to every little detail, just in case, for some reason, Anita did decide to hear him out. If she didn’t believe him, he could always refer her to Asher--though he’d have to make up with him first before relying on his help.

There was also Jason to a certain degree, as he had finally graced him with an explanation. The young wolf had thankfully believed every word. And then, if worse came to worse, there was Richard. He knew what had been going on with Paris. Maybe Anita would more readily listen to what he had to say. She always did.

When the limousine pulled into Anita’s driveway, Jean-Claude knew at once she was not there. Along with the fact he could not gather even the faintest sign of her presence; her jeep was not out front.

Jean-Claude sighed heavily. Perhaps in a way, this was for the best. At least he wouldn’t have to watch his flowers get thrown in the trash now. That would come later, after he had already gone. Ignorance was bliss.

Jean-Claude walked to the door, feeling more burdened with the roses now than anything, and rang the bell. It only took a few seconds for it to be answered. Nathaniel threw open the door and greeted the vampire with a sweet, sexy smile.

“Oh, they’re beautiful!” the wereleopard exclaimed at Jean-Claude‘s offering. “Anita’ll love them, I know she will.” He stepped aside and waved the vampire in. “Come in, come in. Um, she’s not here right now and I don’t know when she’ll be back exactly, but you’re welcome to wait awhile if you’d like.” He took the heavy vase from Jean-Claude’s arms and spun around the room a couple of times as if looking for the perfect place to set it.

Jean-Claude came in, but shook his head to decline Nathaniel’s offer. “I think it may be better if I just went on my way,” he said quietly. “I hope you are right about the roses. I hope she does like them and accepts them in the spirit of good will in which they are being given.”

As he said that, a droll little fantasy began winding through his mind. His hope was that Anita would return home and see his roses, and realize the thought and care he had invested in them. She’d read his card and understand, at last, that there was a perfectly good explanation for everything and be impressed by his determination to make things right between them. Brimming with renewed love for him, she would hasten to him, to hear what he had to say. And then, once all was resolved, he would take her in his arms and kiss her so sweetly she’d be swept away with desire and he being equally inclined….

Jean-Claude sighed. A fantasy to be sure.

Nathaniel placed the vase beside the sofa, moving a lamp to the back of the end table. “Micah tried to talk to her the night she came home, but she ended up leaving later.” The wereleopard looked at Jean-Claude sympathetically. “She hasn’t been back yet actually. We think she’s been with Richard the past couple of nights.”

Jean-Claude nodded. “I know she has.” He frowned.

Nathaniel came up behind Jean-Claude and hugged him tightly, wrapping his arms around the vampire’s chest and laying his head on his shoulder. “I hate seeing you like this,” he whispered in Jean-Claude’s ear. “She just needs to calm down a little. Don’t worry.”

Jean-Claude leaned back into Nathaniel’s arms and smiled sadly. It felt good to be held again. The one thing about Nathaniel was that he always seemed to understand what someone needed at any given time. Jean-Claude reached up and patted his arms affectionately.

“Thank you, mon ami.” He waited until Nathaniel released him before turning to go, and then gestured at the flowers. “At the very least, don’t let her smash the vase. It’s Viennese crystal.”

Nathaniel laughed lightly. “I won’t. I promise.”

Feeling all the more despondent, Jean-Claude left Anita’s house and Nathaniel’s cheerful presence and psyched himself up for his next confrontation. He seated himself in the back of the limousine and picked up the remaining single rose. He passed the blood red bud under his nose, deeply inhaling its heavy fragrance. It was a small token, but no less heartfelt than the bouquet had been.

*****

Chapter Fifteen

Asher refused to turn around, even though Jean-Claude was certain the other vampire was more than aware of his presence behind him. It wasn’t until Jean-Claude seductively trailed the rose down Asher’s cheek and over his lips, that Asher turned to face him. His expression was guarded, but Jean-Claude could see the yearning in his pale, pale eyes.

Pour toi,” Jean-Claude whispered, inching a little closer to Asher as he held out the rose to him. His eyes roved Asher’s face, feeling deprived of Asher’s uniquely ravaged beauty for too long. He’d grown far too accustomed to indulging in it every night now.

Asher gazed down at the rosebud and frowned, but he accepted the flower from Jean-Claude’s hand.

Merci,” Asher said softly, leaning forward slightly and closing the distance left between them that much more. He locked his eyes on Jean-Claude in an unwavering, unnerving gaze. “But do you believe such a trite gesture as this will persuade me to return to your bed, Jean-Claude?”

Not being able to withstand the intensity of Asher‘s piercing gaze any longer, Jean-Claude focused on the rose. It was so deep a red it almost seemed black. He knew it was one of Asher’s favorite colors and the color was fitting for this occasion. It spoke of sorrows and regrets with just a shadow of grief for trespasses of the past.

“Trite? I thought I was being romantic,” Jean-Claude sighed. “And it is not so much as a means to persuade you back into my bed, as it is a means to garner your forgiveness. I was wrong to doubt you. I was wrong not to trust you. You wouldn’t harm me. I know that. Why I persistently tempt fate by ignoring your sage advice time after time, I will never understand. You are here to look out for me and protect me and you do that unfailingly. Unfortunately, time and time again, I fail you, mon chardonneret. I disappoint you and for that, I’m truly, deeply sorry.”

For a long while, Asher neither spoke nor moved. Jean-Claude was almost afraid to look into his eyes. He hoped with all his heart, his apology had not sounded contrived. Especially since he had meant every last word.

Just then, Asher bowed his head and sniffed the rosebud, emitting a low appreciative moan. It made Jean-Claude look up. The corners of Asher’s beautifully shaped mouth were turning up in the slightest of smiles now. Jean-Claude smiled back at him, a wave of relief washing over him. Another long moment passed as he and Asher simply gazed at each other with open fondness. Then, slowly, as if prompted by some unspoken cue, the lovers came together and kissed softly with a light touch of their lips.

“I do forgive you,” Asher breathed into Jean-Claude’s ear, snaking his arm around Jean-Claude’s back to draw him tightly against him. “But I could not let you go unpunished for your transgression.” He leaned forward and kissed Jean-Claude again, deeply this time. After a few torrid moments, they parted and Asher continued. “Though I will admit, your punishment was most likely just as difficult for me to exact as it was for you to endure. I detest sleeping alone now, Jean-Claude. Don’t make me have to do it anymore.”

“I promise,“ Jean-Claude murmured against Asher’s mouth. He drew his lower lip between his teeth and gently sucked its fullness until Asher pulled away only to replace his lip with his tongue, forcing Jean-Claude to open his mouth wider, pressing against Asher’s even harder.

Jean-Claude wrapped his arms around Asher’s neck and surrendered to his flaring passion. Asher’s generous lips felt like the most luxurious velvet against his. His mouth was cool and yielding and sensuous, making a low growl of desire escape from Jean-Claude’s throat. He felt Asher’s other hand tangle in his hair, holding him ever closer. The scratchy foliage of the rose he held tickled Jean-Claude’s cheek. As Asher continued to kiss him, the leaf stroked Jean-Claude’s face and the bud’s fragrance seemed to encircle his head like an intoxicating wreath of incense.

He could feel Asher’s hardening erection pressing into his thigh now, and every time Asher shifted his weight, desire as sharp as an electric current stabbed through Jean-Claude’s loins. The wild mixture of erotic sensations was beginning to consume him--almost to the point when Asher suggested they retire to the bedroom, he nearly agreed.

“It is too early, mon cher,” Jean-Claude feebly protested as Asher’s mouth worried his high-collared throat.

“Since when?” the other vampire replied. He slid his hand down past the small of Jean-Claude’s back and caressed him with unabashed savor there. “If we go to bed now, we’ll have time to make up for the past two nights.”

Jean-Claude struggled to push Asher away now. “We will, but not just yet.”

In the back of his mind, he still clung to the hope that his farcical fantasy about Anita and the roses would somehow come to light.

Asher froze and stared at Jean-Claude in confusion. Jean-Claude glanced at the clock on the wall to his left.

“I don’t understand,” Asher sighed. He followed the direction of Jean-Claude’s gaze and frowned.

Jean-Claude leaned forward and gave Asher a reassuring kiss, hoping he‘d leave it alone. “It’s just that…I want to wait a little while longer.”

Asher shrugged. “Wait for what?” And then it seemed to occur to him. “Or shall I say, for whom?”

Lowering his gaze, Jean-Claude felt uncomfortable having to explain probably futile wishes, but knew if anyone would understand them, it would be Asher.

“I am hoping Anita may still come to me tonight,” he said in a barely audible voice.

Asher sighed and regarded Jean-Claude somewhat sadly. “Did you buy her roses too?”

The utter fruitlessness of his other romantic gesture suddenly came down on Jean-Claude like a crushing weight. He nodded, loathed to confess such wistful foolishness on his part. Asher knew Anita almost as well as he did. He already had realized Jean-Claude’s vigil for her was all for naught.

Oui.”

Asher shook his head, but gathered Jean-Claude back into his arms and hugged him. He kissed the side of his face and whispered into his ear.

“You could have bought her all the roses in the world, Jean-Claude, but it still would not have brought her here. You’ve made her jealous. She thinks you turned to another woman. Remember, she is, ironically, angry with you because she loves you. You will need to give this some time, but when she is ready, she will come to you. She’ll listen to you again.”

Jean-Claude could feel his throat tighten with emotion. “Will she? I think perhaps this time, I have made the one mistake I always feared of making where she is concerned. The fatal single misjudgment which will drive her from me for good.”

Dejectedly, Jean-Claude laid his head on Asher‘s shoulder and let him stroke his hair soothingly.

“Ssshh,” Asher gently chided him. “Your love is stronger than that. It will survive this and countless other infractions you may commit against her. And she, you. Everything will be all right, Jean-Claude. Don’t worry.”

Jean-Claude chuckled sadly at the familiar phrase. He peered up at Asher and tried to smile. “Are you still trying to seduce me into bed five hours before daybreak?”

Asher laughed softly in reply. “This time, I am only saying everything will be all right.” He kissed Jean-Claude’s brow and sighed. “Your love for her will see to that.”

Raising his face to Asher’s, Jean-Claude gazed into his eyes with undisguised adoration. He reached up and ran the back of his hand over the valleys of scars furrowing the right side of Asher’s beautiful face. “I love you, Asher,” he whispered and bent forward to place a soft kiss on Asher’s right cheek.

In reply, Asher captured Jean-Claude’s mouth and hungrily kissed him. He folded his arms around Jean-Claude’s shoulders, holding him tight as if he‘d never let him go. It was only a matter of moments before their desires carried them from one scorchingly erotic kiss to another. The rose Asher had been holding fell softly at their feet forgotten as the two vampires continued to indulge their passion with tantalizing caresses and increasingly demanding embraces.

His head reeling with desire, Jean-Claude finally tore himself from Asher and beckoned him towards the bedroom. Asher followed, his eyes fixed determinedly on Jean-Claude as he retreated down the hall.

Once in the bedroom, Asher all but attacked Jean-Claude, tugging at his clothing with all the tell-tale impatience of barely restrained lust.

“Why are you trussed up like a holiday goose tonight of all nights?” Asher complained, struggling to untie the knot in Jean-Claude’s collar while simultaneously unfastening Jean-Claude’s pants.

Jean-Claude smiled and teasingly grabbed Asher’s hands from his clothes to lave wet kisses on his knuckles. “I did not think I’d be doing this tonight. I thought I’d be disrobing at my leisure just before dawn.”

“How could you think I’d let another night go without your companionship, cheri?” Asher freed his hands and busied himself with undressing his lover once again. “I’m nearly mad with desire for you having spent merely two nights alone. If you hadn’t approached me soon, I would have come crawling back to you.”

Jean-Claude grinned, running his palms over Asher’s now bared chest. He paused only to pull the open shirt off Asher’s shoulders and down his arms. His mouth covered Asher’s in a devouring kiss as his hands sought out the other vampire’s hardened nipples. He twisted them between his long fingers and moaned against Asher’s lips in abject bliss.

Clearly fighting the distraction, Asher managed to undo the collar of Jean-Claude’s shirt and wasted no further time unfastening it. He jerked it open, sending small black shell buttons sailing through the air around them like miniature popping fireworks of passion. The denim jeans came off much easier and within moments, Asher had total access to Jean-Claude’s entire naked body.

“Slow down,” Jean-Claude scolded him, dancing away from Asher’s invading hands. “We have more than enough time tonight.”

Asher snagged his lover in his arms once more before he could get completely away and bent him unceremoniously over the end of the bed. “I can’t,” he stated, rather matter-of-factly as he quickly unbuckled his belt and unzipped his pants. He pushed them down one-handed, holding Jean-Claude prisoner against the mattress with the other. “Do you have any inkling at all, how enticing you look in this position? Merde, you have the most perfect ass.“ Asher slapped the flat of his hand on the roundness of Jean-Claude’s rear suddenly, making Jean-Claude jump, startled. Then Asher smoothed his palm over each flawless white curve with a decided savor, groaning sensually as he did. “I promise to show it the appreciation it so richly deserves. Don’t make me wait, Jean. I’m begging you.”

Smiling slyly, Jean-Claude peered over his shoulder. “If you must,” he replied, his voice thickening with wanton need. “Perhaps it is best to get that manic first coupling out of the way so the rest of the night we may indulge in a little more luxurious lovemaking.”

Asher leaned forward and dotted Jean-Claude’s shoulder with grateful kisses. “Merci beaucoup, mon cher.” He dropped another quick kiss on Jean-Claude’s temple, and then straightened to position himself against the backs of his lover’s thighs. “Do you need preparation?”

Jean-Claude faced forward, shaking his head and braced himself against the mattress. “Non, but do try to be a little patient, s’il vous plait.”

The first sensation was the delicate touch of Asher’s tip pressing against his body. Then there was the sharp sting of the blonde vampire’s fangs embedding into Jean-Claude’s upper shoulder and then, finally, the fullness of pressure inside his body as Asher pushed forward even deeper.

Gasping with exquisitely muddled sensations of the sweetest pleasure and intense pain, Jean-Claude released his ardeur along with the first forceful thrust of Asher’s hips. Absorbing his lover’s power into his mind as Jean-Claude took Asher completely into his body, he willingly succumbed to a preternaturally amplified passion.

It was all manic after that.

 

*****

Chapter Sixteen

Jean-Claude opened his eyes and was immediately aware of the small column of heat crushed up against his bare back under his sheets. His bewildering waking moments tonight seemed much like the one with Paris a few short nights ago, which had begun so innocently. Then perhaps not. But one thing was for certain, there was another woman, just as warm, just as voluptuous, and just as brazen, wedged between him and Asher tonight as well.

For the longest time, Jean-Claude did not dare move. He did not want to wake her, whoever she was and be forced to grant her the same free showing he’d been forced to give Paris. His black denim jeans lay beckoningly in the middle of the room where he’d taken them off. If he could just slip out of the bed and pull them on before rousing his new unknown female companion, he believed he could handle this situation with a lot more of his dignity left intact.

However, just as he rolled forward slightly to get out of the bed, a delicate hand lighted on his bare hip as if stopping him. He froze momentarily and then stealthily reached down to remove the offending appendage.

“I know you’re awake,” the woman said unexpectedly. “It won’t do you any good to try to sneak out of here.”

Stunned, Jean-Claude twisted around and sat bolt upright. He stared at the grinning woman below him, taking in the long black curls fanning out across his pillow and the warm, familiar dark eyes, with a distinct sense of disbelief.

“Anita?” Jean-Claude still had no sense of her. It occurred to him she might simply be a waking dream he was having. Or another fantasy.

Anita’s smile faded to a frown. “Uh-oh. You only call me that when you are mad at me,” she said and then yawned widely. She raised her arm and tucked it underneath her head to prop it up. “Are you still angry with me?”

Jean-Claude had to struggle to come up with a coherent answer for her. “Not at all. I never was. You were the one angry at me. You wouldn’t listen to me. You wouldn’t talk to me.” He suddenly realized he was a little angry at her. “You almost made me believe I’d never see you again…in this sense at least.”

Distractedly, Anita‘s eyes drifted over Jean-Claude‘s torso as she spoke. “Well, you have every right to be angry. I wouldn’t listen and I refused to let you explain.” Her eyes locked on his now. “The roses were nice, by the way. You really shouldn’t have.”

Jean-Claude told himself to relax. This woman was Anita, why was he feeling so uptight around her? He loved Anita. He lay carefully back down, his eyes drinking in the sight of her beautiful face. He wanted to reach for her and gather her into his arms, but he didn’t dare just yet. There were too many unanswered questions cluttering his mind. He had to find out what had happened to turn things around between them first.

After an awkward moment of silence between them, Anita sighed. “You’re still staring at me like you don’t believe I’m real.”

Jean-Claude shrugged slightly. “I‘m sorry. I don‘t mean to. It is just that…I must confess, I do not understand any of this. You left here and went to Richard.”

Stretching out her hand towards Jean-Claude’s face, Anita blinked back at him, an unhappy expression darkening her eyes. She pushed aside a stray lock of his hair from his forehead and tucked it gently behind his ear. “I wanted to surprise you tonight. I guess I did, but it doesn’t seem like it’s in a good way.”

That one insignificant touch from her sent tingles of electricity shooting down his body. “You startled me, that’s all,” Jean-Claude quickly assured her. “You have the marks closed so completely, I’ve no sense of our connection. I felt someone near me, but I didn’t realize it was you until you spoke to me.“

“How’s this? Better?“ Anita had opened the marks letting her power mesh freely with Jean-Claude’s now. It did feel better and much more natural to him--in a supernatural kind of way.

Some of the tension in Jean-Claude’s body eased. He made a sweeping gesture at Anita. “This is quite the surprise. It was the very last thing I expected.”

Anita pursed her lips and shifted over onto her side. “Oh, I hear you have strange women waking up between you and Asher all the time.” It was hard to tell from her expression if she was being serious or not.

Jean-Claude’s eyes widened. “Ma petite, I can assure you--”

Anita suddenly smiled. “You finally called me ma petite,” she stated. “And you don’t look like you’ve seen a ghost so much anymore either.”

Sighing, Jean-Claude edged a little closer to her. “Not so much a ghost as a figment of my over-active imagination. Having you here when I wake has been a long running fantasy of mine.”

Leaning forward slightly as if wanting to decrease the distance separating them, Anita lowered her voice to a breathy whisper. “Oh. Like a sexual fantasy?”

Jean-Claude licked his lips in anticipation. “I suppose you could call it that.” Just as he had summoned up the nerve to reach for her, Anita suddenly moved away again.

“Would you mind explaining then how Paris became aware of it?”

“Paris?”

“Yeah, Paris. She’s the one who told me she climbed into bed with you and Asher before you woke and made herself available to fulfill your every waking need that first night. Where did you think I got the idea from?”

Jean-Claude shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know where Paris got the idea from either. I certainly did not share with her my secret sexual fantasies about you.” The vampire was back on the defensive, but at least this time, Anita seemed willing to let him explain.

“About me?” Anita echoed.

Jean-Claude nodded. “Nearly all my sexual fantasies are about you, ma petite,” he replied as innocently as he could make such a statement sound. “Some are about Asher, but most of them are about you.” A thought suddenly occurred to him. “How did you find out what Paris did that first night? Asher and I had not discussed the details of that incident with anyone.”

Anita shifted in the bed again, positioning herself closer to Jean-Claude once more. “To make a long story short, Richard was the one who explained to me everything that had been going on. He regretted all the trouble Paris caused you and wanted to set things straight.”

Jean-Claude couldn’t have been more stunned by this piece of news if it had been written across the night sky. It appeared he owed the Ulfric more than an apology. Maybe a case of Omaha Steaks. Maybe two….

“And you believed him?” Jean-Claude blurted out before he could stop himself.

Anita had the grace to look ashamed. “Yeah, I did. And we got a full confession from Paris. Richard and I questioned her last night. She won’t be trying anything like this again. We both made it clear to her it wouldn’t be tolerated in our lands.” Anita paused and took a deep breath. “You know, it made sense too, when I heard it. I could have just kicked myself over how I treated you. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the chance to explain. I should know you better by now.”

Jean-Claude lowered his eyes. “Which is why you came to me tonight? To make amends?”

Nodding, Anita tried to smile, but failed. “And because I did miss you. This isn’t exactly how I pictured things going though. If this whole waking fantasy thing is still freaking you out and you want me to leave, I will.”

“No, don’t go,” Jean-Claude fairly pleaded. Tentatively, he reached out to touch her arm, but stopped himself, despite his driving need for her. He couldn’t bear it if she pulled away from him again. That would be worse than not touching her at all. “I want you to stay.”

As if sensing his unease, Anita frowned. “Then why are you acting like you’re afraid to even kiss me? I’m real, Jean-Claude. Honest!”

Jean-Claude let his hand fall heavily to the empty space of mattress between them. “I don’t want to be presumptuous.”

Anita stared back at the vampire with a look of exasperation. “I’m lying in your bed, Jean-Claude, without a stitch of clothing on. I slept beside you most of the afternoon because I wanted to be here for you when you woke. I‘m willing to do what you want. How much more consent do you need?”

Recalling Asher’s similar question, Jean-Claude thought of Paris’ blatant invitation. Anita’s wasn’t even close to that level of clarity, but for her, he supposed what she was doing was obvious enough.

Jean-Claude looked back at Anita with longing, hoping he could make her understand. “It is just that this is something I’ve wanted for a very long time and to have it happen so abruptly, without warning, and not following the best of circumstances between us, I’m left wondering how far I can take it.” He deliberately moved a little further away from her. “Waking up with you beside me is one thing; making love to you is another. Taking blood from you is something different altogether.”

Instead of moving closer to him as Jean-Claude had hoped, Anita sat up and dragged her hand through her hair in frustration. “Let’s face it. This was a bad idea,” she stated flatly. “I didn’t just surprise you, I shocked you!” She faced Jean-Claude and shook her head. “I thought you’d be happy to see me, but I can see now I should have talked things out with you first. We should have made up first. I shouldn’t have just turned up in your bed and expect everything to be all peachy keen.” Anita peered down at Asher’s still lifeless body on her other side and reached over to stroke his hair. “I really can’t fault you. I’m the one who taught you not to be presumptuous with me. If this is awkward at all, the blame’s mine.”

Jean-Claude opened his mouth to reply, but the words seemed trapped inside him. Maybe he did harbor a trace of resentment towards her that was keeping him from embracing her peace offering tonight. Maybe it would be better if she just left for now to give him the chance to sort everything out. Like the night in the parking lot, he was being overwhelmed by the raw need he had to touch her, yet something was making her unapproachable to him despite her words earlier.

As if prompted by Anita’s tender touch, Asher suddenly stirred. Jean-Claude watched as his eyes opened and for a moment, it seemed as if they weren’t focused on anything in particular, but then they seemed to zero in on Anita’s face. She smiled feebly at him and bent over to place a light kiss on his forehead.

But Asher now blinked up at her evidently astonished. He jerked away from Anita and scooted to the far side of the bed. “Anita, what are you doing here?” He peered over at Jean-Claude, clearly confused. “How long have I been asleep?”

“One day, mon ami,” Jean-Claude answered him feeling somewhat numb now. “Apparently a lot happens while we sleep.” He looked at Anita and sighed.

Evidently sensing the tension between them, Asher got out of bed and pulled on his robe. “I think I will go bathe and leave the two of you to…your intentions, whatever they may be. It is nice to have you back, cherie. Seeing you here was quite the…surprise.”

Anita threw up her hands as if in surrender. “Yeah, I’d say that settles it! I’m going back home for tonight. Maybe we’ll try this again some other time. It‘s been a real blast.” Fighting to untangle her legs from the bedding, Anita rose to her knees and crawled towards the foot of the bed.

Jean-Claude tried to let her go, knowing it would be for the best, but his heart shrieked in protest. He glanced at Asher who peered back at him apologetically just before leaving the room, apparently feeling somehow responsible for driving Anita away. Jean-Claude knew better.

His mind made up, he rose and pounced on Anita in one graceful movement, tackling her from behind just before she made it completely off the bed. He flattened her across the foot of the mattress and held her there to keep her from leaving.

He must have taken her completely by surprise as Anita cursed at him and struggled, managing to flip her body beneath Jean-Claude’s imprisoning weight so that she faced him. Jean-Claude had to smile. This felt more real to him than waking beside her and having her succumb to his wishes out of some distorted sense of guilt.

Gazing wistfully into Anita’s large brown eyes, Jean-Claude calmly lay over her as she wiggled to free herself while raining more curses down on him, declaring she was no longer in the mood. She may have been uncomfortable, but Jean-Claude felt completely at ease now, letting the warmth of her body seep into his and reveling in their skin to skin contact. The vampire was also becoming increasingly aware of how having each shapely curve of Anita’s nude form pressed so tightly against his own nude form, was affecting him.

Impulsively, Jean-Claude turned and lowered his head, parting his lips invitingly. Anita suddenly grew still underneath him. She blinked up at him and then sighed softly. If he didn’t know any better, he would have believed she was be-spelled for she was gazing up at him now with clear adoration in her eyes.

Jean-Claude’s lips descended over hers, opening her mouth to deepen their kiss. He closed his eyes and let his hands roam her sides, up and down each round hip.

Kissing him back with equal enthusiasm, Anita’s arms rose and encircled his shoulders, clutching Jean-Claude’s body tightly to hers. She bent her knees, centering him in the cradle of her hips, and entwined her legs around his thighs. As he rubbed himself against her, she moaned and panted and writhed deliciously, all but driving him insane with desire for her.

“Blood,” Anita suddenly gasped, tearing her mouth from Jean-Claude’s just long enough to speak. She covered his mouth in another suffocating kiss before he had the chance to respond, but apparently she didn’t feel he had to. She reached up and pushed her hair aside, baring the side of her neck to him invitingly.

It only took a moment for Jean-Claude to take Anita up on her offer. He poured what power he could into her through their marks and sunk his teeth into her veins. He drank deeply until he could feel his body altering, coming alive with the power of her sweet, rich blood.

“Take me,” Anita moaned, plastering her hands on Jean-Claude’s slender waistline. She opened her legs more, urging him inside her, clearly feeling his hardening length pushing against her.

Jean-Claude raised his head from her throat and trailed several kisses over her cheeks and brow. He penetrated her forcefully, selfishly giving into his aching need, but her body was so slick and warm, he glided inside her easily and buried himself into her as deeply as he could.

Anita growled and ground her hips against him impatiently. Her nails raked his skin and her thighs tightened around him crushingly. Jean-Claude tried to take it slow, be tender and careful, but Anita would have none of it. It seemed as if her need was just as urgent and raw as his was.

The first coupling was always manic, Jean-Claude recalled from the time before with Asher. It was always consuming and wildly uninhibited, driven by the need to possess and lay claim once again on the object of one’s desire gone too long from one’s embrace. Jean-Claude understood this more than ever tonight, and unleashed his passion wholly on Anita’s welcoming body, bringing her to climax again and again through the force of his need for her. What made it complete was the sensation of possession he felt in Anita too. She was also laying claim to what she believed was hers. It warmed Jean-Claude’s cold vampire heart and banished any remnants of the pointless jealousy he had tended.

Jean-Claude and Anita continued to ride out their torrid passions for each other deep into the night. Anita seemed willing to stay now, and soon Asher would join them. There’d be time enough to for the slow, soft, and sensual. Or not.

 

 

THE END

 

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