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 Consequences  by Sabriel
Rated NC-17

Title: Consequences

Chapter: 1/18

Author: Sabriel

Contact: sabriel_0405@mindspring.com

Rating: NC-17 for sexual content

Pairings: The usual suspects

Disclaimer: All characters are the intellectual property of the multi-talented Laurell K. Hamilton. The copyright belongs to her. I am borrowing the characters solely for my own enjoyment.

Authors note: From a timeline perspective, this takes place after CS and technically after the short story in the anthology Cravings. However, with only some minor exceptions, the events of the short story are not taken into consideration here.

Chapter 1

I don’t know what woke me, it could have been anything. All I know is that I went from deep sleep to complete wakefulness without passing go. My stomach heaved and I nearly tripped over Nathaniel, trying to get out of bed and into the bathroom before I threw-up all over the carpet. I barely made it. I clutched the toilet, retching and shaking. I felt a hand against my forehead and another combing my hair out of the way. I knew it was Micah. He didn’t say anything. He just held my forehead until the now dry heaves stopped. He sat with his back against the tiled wall and cradled me, stroking my cheek, my arm, wherever he could touch, until the sweat dried on my body and my pulse slowed to normal.

“I thought I couldn’t get sick,” I said, my voice rough, tight, almost painful.

“You can’t,” Micah replied. “At least not theoretically,” he amended when I tightened in his arms.

“Then what the fuck is wrong with me?” I asked. “This is the third morning in a row! There has to be something wrong!”

Micah was silent for longer than I expected. It made me nervous. He moved my body just slightly so that it wouldn’t be a strain for me to look him in the eyes. “Is it possible that you could be pregnant?” he asked.

I pushed myself away from him so quickly that I nearly cracked my head against the toilet. “What the hell are you talking about? I’m on the pill. Besides, you told me you’d been fixed. The only other man I’m having intercourse with is Jean-Claude and he’s over four-hundred years old. I cannot possibly be pregnant!” I didn’t wait for him to reply. I stood up and stalked out of the room. I couldn’t be pregnant. The whole thing was ridiculous. I must have picked up a stomach bug or something. I’m not a full human servant. Maybe being impervious to disease only truly came after the fourth mark.

I dressed, had coffee and left for work without speaking with either Micah or Nathaniel. Nathaniel hadn’t done anything wrong, but he must have felt something emanating from me because he handed me a cup of coffee without meeting my eyes. He was rarely that submissive with me anymore but he had to have heard the argument I had with Micah, the tone if not the actual words. Shit.

Work would have been unbearable if Bert hadn’t been there. I had a new coffee mug in the office after my last one mysteriously fell off my desk. He’d tell the cleaning crew to be more careful. Right. He wasn’t going to like this one any more than the others. “If you can’t beat them, arrange to have them beaten.” Worked for me.

Actually, I liked my job. I was handling between 3-5 raisings a night. I could have done more but with Bert, the more you did, the more you were expected to do. I let him think that covering for Larry while he finished getting his official Marshall’s badge was testing my endurance. Truth be told, I barely noticed the added work except that I was getting home so late it was difficult to stick to a schedule for feeding the ardeur. But we were managing. I was down to less than one feeding per day. No one was collapsing at work anymore. Yippee!

My cell phone rang a little after one in the morning. I had finished two of the three zombie raisings for the night and was unloading the trunk of my car for the third. I was running a little late but the last job would most likely be a quick one.

“Yeah?” I asked, a little distracted.

Ma petite,” Jean-Claude said, his voice like whispers of silk along my spine. Sometimes the voice tricks annoyed me. Other times, like tonight, I needed to feel a connection with him and this was the closest I was going to get.

“Jean-Claude,” I breathed.

He chuckled, a low, masculine sound that made things tighten low in my body and reminded me that I hadn’t fed today and probably wouldn’t have a chance to do so until tomorrow morning. “I was hoping to see you tonight, ma petite.”

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “I wish I could, Jean-Claude, but I’m not through working for the night and then I really need to get some sleep.” I wasn’t kidding about the latter. Two raisings shouldn’t have sapped me, but I was feeling unusually lethargic.

Now he sighed. I could practically feel his breath against my neck. I shuddered with desire. “Stop that,” I said. “I have work to do!” But there was no heat in my voice.

Oui, ma petite, I understand. Work must come first.”

He sounded so dejected that I mentally reviewed my schedule to see if I could actually come over. “I’m sorry, Jean-Claude. I miss you, too,” I said. I even meant it. Sometimes it boggled my mind that I willingly missed a vampire but there was no question that Jean-Claude had a huge chunk of my heart. I fought it periodically, but if anything it only made the surrender that much sweeter. I was clearly damned either way.

Je t’aime, ma petite,” he said and disconnected.

He had good timing. The lawyers were tapping their feet impatiently. If any of them had said anything to me about it, I probably would have gone out of my way to take longer but while the foot tapping didn’t cease, they were all business otherwise.

By two, I was exhausted. It wasn’t the zombie-raising. He was so newly dead that I probably could have raised him without the benefit of anything but blood but I didn’t want to advertise my power. I had enough problems. It was all I could do to drive home safely. I didn’t even get out of the car. I just rested my head on the steering wheel. I couldn’t remember ever being this tired before when I hadn’t been in a life and death struggle.

My driver’s side door opened and I had just enough strength to pull the Firestar. Micah ignored the gun and reached over me, unhooking the seatbelt. I half leaned, half fell into his arms. “I’m tired,” I told him.

“I know,” he replied. He carried me into the house, stripped me with tender efficiency and placed me into bed before crawling into bed beside me. It was just the two of us but I didn’t have the strength to ask about Nathaniel. He was probably working anyway. I snuggled into Micah’s side, the heat of his skin washing over me where I touched him. I didn’t understand this sudden exhaustion but I was asleep before I could worry about it.

Unfortunately, I woke to the competing needs of throwing up and having sex. They are not an appealing combination. Micah did his forehead holding routine but didn’t make the mistake of talking to me. In fact, I uttered the first words between us, when I finally returned to the bedroom all minty fresh. “Where’s Nathaniel?”

“His set ran late so he decided to go home with Jason. It’s just you and me,” he said, eyeing me speculatively.

I was naked and his gaze heated my blood. “No one else is home?” I said, a little breathy now, the ardeur prickling along my skin. But it wasn’t just the ardeur that brought me back to Micah. It was his acceptance of everything that I am. It scared me sometimes. I keep waiting for him to be too good to be true.

“It’s just us. You can scream all you want when I when I bring you,” he said, walking over to me with muscles moving that humans simply don’t have. He was naked too and already semi-hard. I swallowed audibly.

His kiss was soft, gentle. He coaxed my mouth open with his and his tongue was hot, wet, silky. I opened my mouth wider and pressed my body into his. I broke the kiss, already breathing hard. I moved onto the bed, not wanting to get so carried away we ended up on the floor. It had happened to us before and I didn’t appreciate the rug burns.

Micah stroked his hands down my body, neither touching nor avoiding my more sensitive areas. I touched him everywhere I could, marveling at the satin texture of his skin, the muscles that reinforced his delicate frame. We kissed again, long and hard, our tongues dueling thrust for thrust. I whimpered deep in my throat. He smiled that masculine smile of surety, a smile that would have offended me in a bar but that felt so right with his erection pressing against my thigh.

He kissed along my jaw-line, moved down my neck and nipped at my collarbone. I arched into him. He licked at my nipple, short, quick flicks of his tongue. The nipple tightened and I could feel the pull deep within me. I wanted more and he knew it.

“Please,” I moaned.

“What do you want, Anita? Tell me what you want.” He teased the other nipple the same way. The pleasure was so sharp it bordered on pain.

“Please, Micah,” I said again. I wasn’t at the incoherent stage yet but I had noticed that ardeur limited my desire for foreplay. It didn’t make it any less fun, just much more insistent. But I would have felt like this even if the ardeur had not been riding me. From the first time we had made love, Micah had been part of me, deeper than marriage, deeper than anything physical. We were joined on the metaphysical level. Sometimes that scared me. Other times, it just felt right.

“I know you want me,” he said.

I opened my eyes. I didn’t even realize I had closed them. “You can smell it, right?” I said, tired of having weres and vampires remind me that desire, mine in particular apparently, had a scent.

“No,” he said, “I can see it. Your whole body reacts to me. The way you look at me. It’s breath-stealing. Every time.” His voice was low, rough and full of need, mine, his, ours.

He didn’t tease me again. He simply took my nipple in his mouth and sucked hard. I almost screamed with sensation. My nipples were usually pretty sensitive but this felt like a direct connection to my pleasure center. My neck snapped back and I reveled in the pleasure shooting between my legs. I was panting now, gripping the bedsheets as he moved to the other nipple and gave it the same treatment.

I wanted to turn the tables on him, to move down his body, but we had learned that the first time fed the ardeur. The second time, if we had the strength, fed us. I just held on for the ride. His hand had slipped between my legs, lightly brushing the curls there before delving into the slick folds.

“I love how wet you get for me,” Micah breathed. I felt myself flush. He kissed down my stomach, tickling my belly button. I giggled which ended on a moan. He moved between my legs and I tensed, waiting, needing his touch. He skipped the main event entirely and began massaging my calves. His strong, slow touch kneading out the tension. But I tension in other places. I writhed on the bed, arching my hips, pleading wordlessly for satisfaction. He chuckled. I couldn’t wait to get even with him.

“Is this what you want?” he asked before he parted the folds of my sex and licked, slow and sure. I did scream this time, the pleasure almost overwhelming, filling me to the brim but not yet to overflowing.

“Please, Micah,” I said, almost incoherent with lust. But I knew he wouldn’t give in that easy. I was right.

He shook his head. “Tell me what you want, Anita. I need to hear the words.”

I panted and struggled to form a coherent sentence. “Please, I need you inside of me. Please, be inside me, please,” I begged. At this point, I would have groveled if it meant he would push me over the shining edge of orgasm.

He positioned himself against me and pushed, slowly, steadily, inexorably. My breath caught in my throat. “Faster,” I pleaded.

“Soon,” he said. Micah was always in control, even when I pushed him over the edge. He never moved quickly in the beginning, always wanting to make sure my body was truly prepared to receive his.

He filled me, thick and heavy. My legs opened wider to give him more room and he slid forward another inch. I gasped. I wanted all of him and I wanted him now. “Faster!”

“You are much too impatient,” he grinned at me. We had had this argument before. One of the benefits of his “alpha-ness” was his ability to retain control long after he had totally shredded mine. Admittedly, I had better control when the ardeur was not riding me. “Slow and steady gets the job done.” He thrust a little harder, a little deeper this time. I arched against him, meeting his thrust with one of my own, wanting, needing him deeper.

He pulled himself back so that only the tip of him remained inside. He met my eyes, smiled, and thrust hard, all the way in. He thrust his beast through me at the same time. I screamed as he propelled me over the edge. I lost consciousness for a few moments. I had been experiencing la petite morte, the French’s little death, more frequently lately. It disturbed me when I thought about it, something I tried desperately not to do. I mean, my lovers couldn’t possibly be getting better, could they?

I couldn’t have been out for more than a few seconds because Micah was still pounding into me. The pleasure built more quickly this time. “Don’t stop, please don’t stop,” I cried. He covered his mouth with mine, preventing any more discussion. His thrusts were less rhythmic, more forceful, nearing that edge of pain that always made it seem more exciting, more intense. He hit my cervix with every thrust, something he never did when we weren’t feeding the ardeur, and I knew I’d be bruised. But oh, it was worth it. He let out his own cry and I felt him flood me with scalding heat. The ardeur fed from Micah everywhere he touched me, his hands, his chest, his shaft still hard inside me. I couldn’t remember ever being this sated.

Micah collapsed on top of me for a moment before rolling to his side and taking me with him. We snuggled together, trying to remember how to breathe. My body was numb with pleasure. He kissed the back of my neck. “Thank you,” he said.

I was barely conscious and my body still pulsed with aftershocks. “For what?” I whispered.

I never heard what he answered.



Chapter 2

“Anita. Anita!” Micah shook awake. I blinked a couple of times and then blushed, remembering. I was less embarrassed about sex than I used to be. Hell, I had had enough partners lately that I should have been completely over it, but I wasn’t and the memory of the things that Micah could do to my body always brought pink to my cheeks.

I started to press kisses to his arm, his shoulder, anywhere that I could easily reach but he stopped me. “We don’t have time,” he said. “You’ve been asleep for hours. I couldn’t wake you. I was starting to worry. You’re going to be late for work.”

He was right. I didn’t even remember dreaming. But I dismissed his concern. I didn’t remember being so completely satisfied either. I grabbed a quick shower, dressed, ate whatever Micah handed me and made it to the office a few minutes before my first appointment. On the other hand, why the hell was I so tired lately? It was an uneventful evening except for the one client who must have been wearing a bottle of perfume. She walked in the door and my stomach flipped over. I put my head between my knees and tried to convince the client that I could do the job. It’s funny but when I asked Craig, our night secretary about her, he couldn’t recall that she was wearing any perfume at all.

It only took another few mornings of kissing porcelain before I drove 15 miles out of my way at 3 am to go to an all night drug store to purchase several brands of early pregnancy test. It wasn’t possible. I knew it wasn’t possible. But the alternative, that something was seriously wrong with me, wasn’t worth considering.

I waited until everyone was out of the house before I opened up the first package. Then I opened up the second and then the third. All three said the same thing. Pregnant. I sat on the toilet for the longest time. I couldn’t be pregnant. How could I bring a child into my life? I couldn’t handle the wereleopards by myself, much less a baby. Worse, who was the father? I was on the pill. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Theoretically, it couldn’t happen.

Dr. Lillian was happy to see me, particularly since I wasn’t bleeding and wasn’t with anyone who was. “Anita, how good to see you. Won’t you sit down? What can I do for you?”

I liked Dr. Lillian. She has a no nonsense approach to medicine. Plus she’s known me long enough to know that I am not going to sit still and rest so she could stop prescribing it. “I think, I mean, it looks like,” I couldn’t say it loud. Instead, I passed her the results of the pregnancy tests. Heat rose in my cheeks as I waited for her to say something.

“Why don’t we go into the examining room?” She stood up and I followed. I hated this but she was gentle. When I was dressed and back in her office she said, “You look like you are about eight or nine weeks along. How are you feeling?”

“I’m tired, constantly nauseous, certain smells make me dizzy. Is it supposed to be this way?”

“For some women. Do you know who the father is?”

From anyone else the question would have made me ballistic but there was no condemnation in her voice. “None of this makes sense. Micah told me that he’s been fixed. Jean-Claude can’t possibly father children. He’s over four hundred! I am not having intercourse with anyone else. I’m on the pill. How could I get pregnant?”

“You’re on the lowest dose of the birth control pill. A missed pill could easily cause an accident. Have you missed any pills?”

I opened my mouth to say no when I remembered Musette’s visit. Two months ago. Jean-Claude and Asher. Belle Morte’s ardeur washing over my skin. Jason coming inside of me. Ecstasy in drowning waves. I hadn’t taken my pill that day or even the next. Oh, God, Jason had fathered my baby. I felt the blood drain from my face. Next thing I knew, Lillian was pressing my face down between my knees. “Breathe deeply, Anita,” she said. “And slowly.”

“I know who the father is. At least, I think I do. He’s a werewolf.” There. I’d said it. Out loud.

“But not Richard?” she asked.

Sometimes I forgot just how much she knew. “No, not Richard. One of his pack.” I wasn’t ready to name Jason yet. Then another thought hit. “Lycanthropy can’t be inherited, can it?” Oh, God, something new to worry about.

“No. It’s a disease and it does alter the genetic makeup of the victim, but it isn’t passed through the gametes.” Lillian was still kneeling in front of me. “Anita, do you want to have this baby?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that you are still in the first trimester. An abortion is an alternative.”

“Not for me,” I said. It had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the feeling that I destroyed enough life just doing my job. I didn’t know how I felt about all this beyond panic. But I couldn’t bring myself to snuff it out either. I was so screwed.

“Okay, I can write you a prescription for pre-natal vitamins but you need to find a real obstetrician. Most shapeshifters can’t bear children because of the change. I haven’t delivered a baby since my residency days.”

I was still reeling from my revelation. Jason Schuyler, werewolf, stripper and vampire snack, was the father of my baby. I know I took the prescription but after I left her office, I was on complete autopilot. I called Jean-Claude and left a message that I wouldn’t be able to see him that night. I wasn’t ready to tell him this. I didn’t know how he’d react but somehow I doubted that eternal happiness would be one of the options.

I went to the office and rescheduled my raisings. I needed some time at home, preferably alone. The house was dark when I got there but there was still enough ambient light that I didn’t bother turning on the lamps. I curled up on the couch and stared at the prescription in my hand. Lillian had also provided some referrals. I crumpled both papers in my hands. This wasn’t supposed to be happening.

I was still curled up on the sofa, in the dark, when Nathaniel came home. He walked in the door and flipped on the lights. I blinked against the sudden brightness. “Anita!” he exclaimed. “Are you okay?”

I shook the cobwebs from my head. “Yeah, I’m fine. What are you doing home?” I asked to deflect him.

“I wanted to grab something to eat before I go to work. Stephen is picking me up on his way in. Can I make you a fresh pot of coffee?” He was walking and talking at the same time, something I seemed incapable of. I did want the coffee but I thought about the lecture Lillian had given me about eating healthy and cutting out caffeine. She also talked about miscarriages being common in the first trimester.

“No, thanks, Nathaniel.” I knew I should make small talk but Nathaniel was good at silence. At least usually.

The refrigerator door slammed shut, dishes clanked on the counter. He eventually came out of the kitchen with a plate full of sandwiches. His hair was knotted is such a way so that he wouldn’t trip over it. He sat down on the seat across from me. “What’s wrong, Anita? And please don’t tell me nothing’s wrong. I share your bed. I’ve seen how sick you are in the morning. Your vampire marks are supposed to protect you from illness. So what’s going on?”

“I really don’t want to talk about it, Nathaniel. I’m okay. Really.” I couldn’t look at him when I said it.

“Does Micah know? Or Jean-Claude?”

“Micah knows. It’s okay, Nathaniel,” I said, looking at him this time. I opened my arm and he practically crawled into my lap. I ran my hands over him and the touch gave me comfort too. It still surprised me, how much I had grown to need the touching. Me, who went for years with only the most superficial caresses. Now I was practically lonely if only one other person shared my bed.

We stayed like that for a while, until Nathaniel really had to get ready for work. He left about the time that Micah came in. “Have you had anything to eat lately?” he asked.

“I’m not hungry. I’m pregnant,” I said. I hadn’t meant to say it like that. I mean, he knew before I did, it wasn’t like it was a surprise. But he still walked out of the kitchen slowly, with his hands out in front of him, as though he were afraid I was going to pull my gun.

“I’m pregnant,” I repeated and tears trickled down my cheeks. Micah gathered me in his arms and rocked me. It seemed to be a theme.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said and pulled me closer, stroking his hands through my hair. I relaxed in his arms.

When I had stopped crying he suggested that he run a bath. He even lit the candles that Jean-Claude kept me supplied with. The water felt heavenly around it and cradled against him, I felt safe.

“I went to see Dr. Lillian today. She confirmed it.” Micah didn’t say anything. I suppose there was nothing to say. “Aren’t you going to ask me who the father is?” I asked or more specifically, goaded.

I wasn’t looking at him so I didn’t see him shake his head, though I felt his curls brush against my shoulders. “I know who the father is,” he said.

I pushed away from him until I could turn and face him. “What the hell do you mean you know?”

He gave me that look that indicated I was, once again, being surprisingly naïve. “Anita, there are only so many men in your bed who could make you pregnant. I knew you had been with Jason, roughly two months ago. I was there that day, I saw how strung out you were with Belle riding you.” He stopped. Perhaps he saw the shock on my face.

“Did Jason tell you?” The idea that Jason might have gone around bragging, but no, I quashed that thought. Jason would flirt with anything on two legs but he didn’t kiss and tell.

“He didn’t have to. I saw him with you when the pack came in. The way he touched you. The way you shivered. I knew.”

“You never said anything.” It was a statement.

“Anita, what was there to say? I told you I would do anything to be your Nimir-Raj. The ardeur is just one part of you. You aren’t in love with Jason. He’s on your short list. The people you’d kill or die to protect, but he’s not in the same league as Jean-Claude. Or even Richard.”

“Please do not go there. I don’t want to think about Richard right now. Or Jean-Claude.” I moved back toward Micah, feeling bereft without his touch. He pulled me back against him hard and when his lips came down over mine, I met them with all the power I had inside of me.

I was exhausted again when were finished, which thankfully had been in bed. We would have drowned otherwise. He was still inside me and I was pressed up against him so hard that it was like I was trying to go through him with my body.

“When are you going to tell the pard,” Micah asked.

“I’m not,” I said.

Micah went very still around me. “What do you mean?” he said, striving to maintain a very neutral tone.

“Dr. Lillian told me that a lot of women miscarry in the first trimester. I don’t want to tell anyone until after that point.”

Micah looked as though he wanted to disagree with me but said instead, “I think Cherry already knows.”

“Probably. But she’ll keep it to herself until I say something. Nathaniel knows something is wrong too, but he is satisfied that you know.”

“What about Jean-Claude?”

I stiffened. “I’m not going to tell him either. Not yet.” I couldn’t look at him so I buried my face in the crook of his shoulder.

“Are you going to avoid sleeping with him for the next month?”

“What do you mean?”

“Anita, I knew you were pregnant a month ago. Your reactions are sharper, your whole body is more sensitive. And when I run my beast through you, I can see the fetus,” he said with a sort of awe in his voice.

“You can see…,” I let my voice trail off.

“Yeah. It’s incredible. And a little frightening. But you’re avoiding my question.”

“I’ve avoided Jean-Claude for weeks. Except in my dreams. I’m not ready to tell him,” I said.

“Why not?”

Why not, indeed. Because in my heart of hearts, I thought this might cross his line. That I could have gotten pregnant. I needed Micah in metaphysical ways I didn’t understand. But I loved Jean-Claude. Losing him would destroy me and I wanted to put it off for as long as possible.

“Because I think he’ll hate the idea. This will change everything. And when he finds out it was Jason it will be worse. He might think he is fine with the idea that Jason is his pomme de sang and therefore it’s okay that I use him to feed from, but getting me pregnant? I’m not ready to lose him, Micah.”

“Anita, he loves you. All of you. This will change nothing.” I didn’t answer and he pulled me tighter. “He’s going to get suspicious, if not concerned.”

“I know. But I’ll tell him how busy I am at work and give him access to my dreams and it will tide him over. Sort of.” I knew I was wrong which only made me defensive. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“He loves you, Anita. Don’t sell him short. You’re going to have to tell Jason, too, you know.”

I pulled away and got out of bed. “I don’t want to talk about it!” I stalked from the room. Micah let me go. He got brownie points for that, but he usually did. I threw on a robe and went into the kitchen, debating about ordering Chinese.

He joined me as I finished ordering enough food for us both. It wouldn’t go to waste. Not in this house. Between Zane and Nathaniel, food didn’t remain long enough to go bad. Not the way it had when I lived alone.

“What am I going to do, Micah?” I huddled in my robe but he didn’t make any moves to get closer.

“Whatever we have to do, Anita. You’re not alone anymore.”



Chapter 3

Micah had been correct. Jean-Claude didn’t react well to my absence. “Ma petite, it has been weeks since we’ve seen each other. Surely, you can find some time to come to the Circus? Or I can come there.”

Guilt played along my shoulders and tensed them. “I’m sorry, Jean-Claude. Really, I am. But you can have my dreams,” I said. Little did I know what I was opening myself up for.

At first, the dreams were rated PG. He took me on dreams of dinner dates and cuddle sessions before roaring fires. Things we didn’t actually do in real life. I was still dressed in his leather and lace concoctions, but even those covered me up more than usual. He was enticing me and I knew it. It worked anyway.

“Those weren’t the kind of dreams I had in mind,” I told him. I couldn’t help it. I missed him and I wanted him. And it was my choice not to have him.

“No, ma petite? I’ll do something different tonight.” The promises in his voice sent satin shivers down my spine and I moaned involuntarily. “Go to sleep early,” he said. I could barely wait.

The pard had been tiptoeing around me for the last few weeks. On one hand they touched me more frequently. On the other, they didn’t talk to me. They wore clothes more often. They were careful not to give me any excuse to get upset. It was disconcerting. Micah wasn’t disapproving of me exactly. He rarely went so far as to actively disagree with me. Nevertheless, he thought I was being unfair. The pard would welcome the baby.

Cherry knew. She didn’t talk to me about it, but I saw how she watched me. How she made sure that I was eating. I wasn’t used to being mothered. The last time I had been eight. Though that wasn’t entirely fair to Judith. Marianne tried hard to be a surrogate parent. Sometimes I accepted it. Sometimes I even appreciated it.

I went to bed early. Not because Jean-Claude told me to. Not even because I was tired. But because I needed to get away from the scrutiny. I was on the edge of consciousness when Micah and Nathaniel slipped into bed on either side of me. It felt so right that I slipped into deep sleep within minutes.

Jean-Claude had promised different and that’s what I got. We went from PG to R. We were at Guilty Pleasures and I was watching Nathaniel on the stage, the sensuous turns of his body made my own body mimic the movements. Jean-Claude was kissing my neck; I could feel the press of fangs. I leaned into him.

“Why are we here?” I asked.

“I thought you might want to watch this evening.” His voice had a note I couldn’t quite place but it had me suspicious.

“Watch what?” I asked.

“This,” he said and motioned to the stage.

Guilty Pleasures was a preternatural strip club and the biggest attraction was the men, shifters and vampires. So I was stunned to see a woman on stage. She wasn’t someone I recognized and yet she seemed familiar.

The woman was shorter than Nathaniel, long dark hair hung in curls down her back. She wore veils everywhere but seemed unfamiliar with the dance. Nathaniel circled around her and shimmied his hips until they bumped up against the woman’s. He took a hand in each of his and began moving her to the music. It looks sensual and inviting and the veils kept floating away. She had revealed her breasts; they were lush and heavy, the nipples tight though I wasn’t sure whether it was from excitement or cold. Nathaniel was leading her on the floor, moving her body this way and that, removing his own clothes piece by piece.

I was panting and I wasn’t even sure why, though when Nathaniel put his hands on the woman’s breasts to caress them, Jean-Claude had done the same thing to mine. The lightest of touches, the barest stroke against the nipples. I was moaning in his arms. “More,” I whispered. But my eyes were glued to Nathaniel and the woman. There was something sweetly awkward about her. She didn’t want to be there, though she didn’t mind being naked. At least she didn’t seem to. The last veils were coming off. She was wearing a thong that barely covered her, but I was more interested in her face.

“Can’t you guess, ma petite?” Jean-Claude whispered in my ear.

The woman was actively caressing Nathaniel now, who was down to his own G-string. I knew he was aroused. I had felt it often enough and he was on the edge. She was in front of him now, covering the place her hand was supposedly touching. But I saw him mouth a name as ecstasy gripped him. “Anita!” he cried out.

My eyes widened in panicked surprise. I turned to Jean-Claude. “It’s just a dream, ma petite, just a dream,” But his own hands had been busy why I watched Nathaniel and now it was my turn to cry out. I woke suddenly; groggier than when I had started.

Neither Micah nor Nathaniel had moved. It was just a dream. I’d give Jean-Claude a piece of that dream all right.

Be careful what you wish for.

When I called Jean-Claude the next night, I planned to complain about the dream but that wasn’t what came out. “Why are you doing this to me?” I was appalled at the level of need in my voice.

He chuckled but there was a warm edge of anger in it that I understood. This was supposed to be punishment. “Tell me what you want, ma petite,” he said.

I gave in. “Please, Jean-Claude, I’m sorry I can’t see you right now. But I do miss you. I do want you.” Tears clogged my throat and I fought not to release them. Even though I blamed most of my tears on hormones, it was still a weakness I resented. I hated that I was begging Jean-Claude to have mental sex with me.

Micah continued to be supportive, but I knew he thought I was crazy. I had two more weeks before I was past the first trimester. My decision not to tell Jean-Claude was having unintended physical consequences on me. The longer I went without telling him, the surer I was that he would end things between us, insofar as you can end things with your human servant. But I couldn’t face his anger. I was uptight all the time.

RPIT had called me in on a few cases. I came in, made the identification and left. Zebrowski was concerned enough to call me. I think he was afraid that I was burning out like Dolph had. I didn’t want to tell him I already had.

I went to sleep that night snuggled against Micah with Nathaniel snuggled into me. It felt right and I slowly relaxed. I didn’t realize I was dreaming until I saw Jean-Claude. He was dressed in skin-tight black pants with black boots that laced up the back. His shirt was the color of blood when it first hits the air. It was sheer and I could see his nipples. I reached out my hands to touch. I hadn’t even looked at myself. My own gown was diaphanous and the same color as his shirt. As I reached him, the gown flowed around his legs. He met my lips in a kiss so hot I felt the heat all the way to my soul. I put my arms around him and let myself enjoy it.

The dreams increased in intensity over the next few days. They had gone way past NC-17 and straight into XXX territory. I was waking, trembling, drenched in my own arousal. Sometimes Micah was there, but usually I woke alone. At first the dreams were just Jean-Claude and me but that had changed last night. Asher joined the dream. It was as electrifying as it had been the first time. And left my body just as weak. I actually touched my neck to see if I was bleeding. I was afraid to go to sleep.

Erotic didn’t describe the next dream. Jean-Claude claimed me in every way he could. He and Asher both did things to my body that we had never discussed, that I had never imagined. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything but want. I came to myself with Micah poised between my legs. “Anita, forgive me,” he said and plunged deep, no preliminaries, something he never, ever, did. I screamed as he brought me with that single thrust, my back bowing on the bed and my nails raking down his back, piercing the skin, drawing blood. Micah came in that single thrust as well. He collapsed on me, panting. I could smell our arousal, sweet and musky, and it made me writhe beneath him.

“I’m sorry, Anita,” Micah whispered. “I couldn’t help myself.” His eyes were kitty-cat eyes and their inhuman beauty mesmerized me. He rolled us so that we were side by side. “Did I hurt you?”

My body no longer pulsed with unrestrained pleasure and I could feel it again, the aches and bruises that may have been from Micah or perhaps from the dream. I wasn’t sure what was real anymore.

“No, I mean, I don’t think so. What happened?”

Micah raised an eyebrow at me. “Tonight or this week?”

Now I was confused. I was starting to come back to myself. ”What are you talking about?”

“Haven’t you wondered why Nathaniel hasn’t been sleeping with us? Why he hasn’t even come home the last two nights?” Micah was running his fingers through my hair and he smoothed it back from face so that he could see me.

I guess I hadn’t wondered. I was too busy getting through each day and each night. In truth, the last week was a blur, afterimages of my dreams imprinting themselves so completely that all I could think of was how badly I wanted Jean-Claude in the flesh. And it wasn’t the ardeur that needed him so completely. It was me.

“Nathaniel shifted two nights ago,” Micah said.

My eyes went wide. “What do you mean? Where?”

Micah looked at me with an _expression that I had never seen before. A combination of embarrassment and defensiveness. Finally he sighed in resignation. “You know that on the night of the full moon, when we have to shift, that we hunt.”

“Sure. I had asked Richard once and he said he always wanted meat after the change.”

“Well, after we hunt, we usually mate.”

I wasn’t expecting that and pushed at him. He grabbed my wrists and held them. “No, not me. Certainly not anymore. But the younger ones. They almost can’t help it. The women are in,” he paused and it was clear he was trying to come up with an inoffensive way to tell me something I wouldn’t like. “The hell with it. The women are in heat. They want sex and they want it in cat or human form.”

I relaxed against his hold. “So what does this have to do with me?”

“You may not be one of us in body, but you are one in spirit and your spirit was desperate for satisfaction. You were thrashing and moaning and whimpering and the scent of your arousal was almost overwhelming, even to me. Nathaniel was on top of you before I could even react. He had gone so far as to mount you when I knocked him off the bed. It wasn’t just that he was about to have intercourse with you. It was that he had already lost control of his beast. He shifted immediately. You were still lost to the dream.

“Frankly, it wasn’t altogether different from what happened to me just now except that I didn’t shift. I just knew I had to have you or die trying. Whatever the hell he’s doing to you is damned effective.”

I didn’t know what to say about any of it. It frightened me a little. “How’s Nathaniel?” I asked.

“He cried. He was so ashamed of himself. I told him that it had nothing to do with him but he didn’t believe me. He decided that unless you needed to feed, he’d be better off sleeping elsewhere. I would have told him the same thing.”

“Oh, God, I’m sorry,” I said. This was one of those unintended consequences that always reached out to bite me in the ass. I closed my eyes. “I’ll go over to the Circus and tell Jean-Claude tomorrow night.” I bit my lip. “You were right. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone but my good intentions never seem to work out the way I plan.” I didn’t mean to sound so dejected but the thought of telling Jean-Claude terrified me. I was so sure that he’d hate the idea. That he’d hate me.

“Anita, I don’t understand why you’re so afraid to tell him. He loves you.”

But I wasn’t really listening. In fact, I wanted to take a shower and maybe even change the sheets. Good sex is supposed to be messy but this was ridiculous. By the time we were done and curled up into one another, it didn’t seem worth it to go to sleep, but my body had other needs.



Chapter 4

I had gone up against real monsters, things that wanted me dead, hell, real humans who wanted me dead and I don’t remember ever feeling this scared. It was so bad I threw up twice at work. I told everyone I had a stomach bug. They all backed away very pleasantly. It was a smart move on their part. I did my best to interview the clients who came in but frankly I wouldn’t recognize any of them again. I hoped they filled out the information sheets completely or else I would accidentally raise the wrong corpse. Maybe I could pass them off to Larry.

My raisings were all legal issues and insurance claims and all the corpses were newly dead. I could do these with a few pricks of blood. Oh, I made a show of it. It wouldn’t do to make it look too easy. Bert gave me more raisings than any other animator. If he knew just how easy it had become, I’d never get any sleep. But at least I didn’t have to think. Not about the job anyway.

It was only a little after midnight when I finished up. Early for me. I made a few calls to locate Jean-Claude. It was too late at night to wander the Blood Quarter in the hopes that I would get lucky. Willy told me he was at Guilty Pleasures. I got a decent parking space. I could hear the thrum of the music before I even opened the doors. The bouncer knew me and I bypassed the line. There was still a line of people eager to see the main attraction. Living with some of those attractions, I could understand why.

The lobby was decked out in holiday spirit with mistletoe in strategic places and snowflake ornaments in traditional white and blood red hanging from every available ceiling tile. There was even a tree, fully ornamented, though no crosses of course, with unwrapped toys under its boughs. No one could accuse the JC Corporation of shirking its civic responsibilities. These toys were all being collected for the poor and underprivileged children of St. Louis. I hoped at least a few would go to the orphans of shifter attacks, but I don’t make the rules.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t given Christmas a whole lot of thought this year. I couldn’t even remember if we had a tree. I had to remedy that if Micah hadn’t already taken care of it. I knew the pard hadn’t had many Christmases and I didn’t want my problems to overshadow what could be a very happy time. I hoped there would still be time for Fed-ex to deliver gifts because it looked like a real catalog-shopping year for me. I never knew what to get anyone. This year would be no different. But I could worry about it in the morning. Assuming I lived that long. My stomach was doing flip-flops and all I was doing was delaying the inevitable.

The holy check item girl ignored me. She knew I wasn’t giving up my cross and Jean-Claude had finally told her that it was okay. I headed to his office. The corridor was dimly lit by candle sconces but I could see paper snowflakes pasted everywhere. Jean-Claude must really be in the holiday spirit. Too bad I was about to ruin it. I swallowed against the rising nausea. I stopped in front of his office door. I could hear noises from within, typing mostly. I knocked and opened the door without waiting for a response. I had only seconds to drink in the sight of him. He was a woman’s wet dream come to life from his flawless alabaster skin to the thick curls that cascaded down his back. I could only see him from the waist up. A black waistcoat covered one of his frilled white shirts. A blood-red garnet peeked out of those frills, catching the light.

Jean-Claude looked up as I stepped over the threshold. His eyes flicked to me and then back to the computer screen. “Anita,” he said, his voice flat but with that warm edge of anger I had come to know well. “I don’t have time for you this evening. I’m sorry. Perhaps another night?” he said, dismissing me without ever giving me his attention.

If he had been watching, he would have seen all the blood drain from my upper body. I was light-headed enough that I had trouble backing out the door. He knew about the pregnancy. It was the only explanation I could think of. He only called me Anita when he was angry. I would have thought he would have given me a hearing but maybe he didn’t think it was necessary.

I closed the door behind me and attempted to go back the way I came but my legs wouldn’t hold me. I fell against the wall and slid to my knees. I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs to take a deep breath. I had tried to prepare myself for this but the reality was so much harsher. My body was crying for his but I had other men who could satisfy my body. It was my soul that was crying out just as loudly. I hated debating the whole soul thing but something animated vampires and if it wasn’t a traditional soul, who was I to say it wasn’t a soul at all? I could almost feel something inside me tear raggedly.

“Anita?” I heard my name through the incessant pounding of my heart. “Anita, are you all right?” Willy had come up behind me.

“I’m fine. I just dropped something,” I said, my voice a distant echo. I was amazed I was capable of coming up with a coherent sentence. But I must have satisfied Willy because he continued down the hallway.

I stayed on my hands and knees for a few more minutes, but I knew I couldn’t stay there. I got to my feet staggering like a drunkard. I decided to leave by the back entrance. It was too early for the stripper junkies to be waiting for their favorites. I kept reminding myself to breath. I made it to my car before tears cascaded down my cheeks. Perhaps if I hadn’t been pregnant I would have reacted with anger. But then, if I weren’t pregnant, none of this would be happening. I sat in the car sobbing as if my heart would break. I thought it had. I knew, I hoped, that tomorrow I’d be pissed at Jean-Claude for not giving me a chance to defend myself. And Jason. Oh, God, what had he done to Jason? I hadn’t looked on stage to see if he was there. Shifters can take a lot of damage. A lot of them even like pain. But at 400-plus years old Jean-Claude could make pain seem eternal. It wasn’t even Jason’s fault. I knew I should go back and check but I also knew that I couldn’t. Not tonight.

I got the tears under control about the same time I noticed my teeth were chattering. I hadn’t turned on the engine and the December cold had seeped into the car and under my skin. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I couldn’t go home. Not yet. The Circus was closed to me now. My heart ached when I thought about it. I needed Micah but I loved Jean-Claude. A headache had blossomed behind my eyes. Obviously now was not the right time to deal with the ramifications of what had just happened.

I started the car and began driving. The quarter moon wasn’t bright enough to see by which gave me an idea. The lupanar would be almost preternaturally quiet. There wouldn’t be any werewolves hanging out at this time of the month. It was late and all good little werewolves, if they had had to shift, were sleeping it off in their nice comfy beds. I grabbed the survival blanket I had begun carrying after Musette’s visit and headed over to the throne rock. I wrapped the blanket around me and curled up on the ground. It was cold but so was I.

Now that it was safe to cry, I had no more tears left. Numbness crept through my body and my mind. I thought I was grateful. I wasn’t sure how long I stared up at the heavens, its cloudless sky alive with stars, but eventually I slept.

I woke at first light. While I had closed down my shields against both Richard and Jean-Claude, I still felt the dawn. If I opened the marks I could feel his pain. As it was, I had plenty of my own. I was groggy and uncomfortably stiff. It took me two tries to stand up and even then, I staggered. The survival blanket kept me from freezing but I wasn’t warm. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was strictly emotional or whether the fact that my hair brushing against my ears caused needles of pain to shoot down my jaw indicated a more physical reaction.

There were not a lot of cars on the road, something for which I was grateful since my arms weren’t operating smoothly. I attempted to straddle the middle line in the hopes of staying on the road. I parked the car in the driveway, left the engine running and just rested. The heater blasted hot air but I didn’t feel it, not even a little bit.

I couldn’t remember ever feeling this empty, at least not since I was eight. This wasn’t the place I went when I killed. I used to think that place was empty but by comparison, that place was a party. I turned off the engine and sleepwalked to the front door. The smell of coffee hit me as soon as I got inside. Micah was sitting in living room nursing a cup. He watched me with his kitty-cat eyes.

“You’re up early,” I whispered.

“You rarely stay at the Circus after dawn,” he said. That he never usually woke early for me went unsaid. “Why don’t you sit down,” he said. I hadn’t moved from the doorway. His voice was neutral and unthreatening.

“I wasn’t at the Circus,” I said. I still hadn’t moved but I noticed that my hands were shaking. Micah didn’t say anything. He just waited. “He knows, Micah. He called me Anita and told me he didn’t have time for me.” Shivers encompassed my entire body. “What am I going to do?” I whispered. I didn’t even feel Micah as he wrapped his arms around me.

I was on the couch, spooned against him, hot coffee being lifted to my lips. “Sip it. It’s decaf. But it’s also hot,” he said. The first sip burnt my tongue and I wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad because it meant that I wasn’t dead. He put the cup on the coffee table and turned me so that I faced him.

Micah was almost painfully warm against me. His heat burned into me. “He doesn’t know, Anita.”

I heard the words but they didn’t register. “I should hate him for this but I’d feel the same way if he betrayed me. I wouldn’t want to see him. I know I wouldn’t listen to him.” I wanted to bury myself in Micah’s body.

“Sweetheart, listen to me. He doesn’t know. I know he doesn’t know.” Something in his voice, perhaps the earnest tone, caught me.

“Why are you so sure?” I asked, desperately wanting to believe but also rather certain that I didn’t deserve this reprieve. I had betrayed Jean-Claude. It doesn’t matter that I had had his permission. It was the unintended consequences that put a whole different spin on things.

“Because there were two vampire murders last night. It was on the late news. If Zerbrowski didn’t call you, it was because your cell phone was off and because they were so obviously vampire kills. I am sure that Jean-Claude was the first vamp they talked to. Since he didn’t expect you, he probably thought you were there on official business. After the dream he sent you last night, he probably took it as an insult. Besides, Asher called to apologize on Jean-Claude’s behalf. I guess he heard about your visit.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That you were sleeping and I didn’t want to wake you. Where were you last night?” he asked.

“Wait a minute, you knew I wasn’t at the Circus?”

“Yeah. Why do you think I was up?”


“But you said…” Now I was confused.

He laughed softly. “I made a statement which happens to be true even though it had no bearing on this particular event. You rarely stay at the Circus after dawn. I wanted to look for you but I didn’t want to alarm everyone. I also happen to know that you can take care of yourself.” It was the nicest thing anyone had said to me in ages.

“I went to the Lupanar,” I said.

I felt Micah sigh. “That explains why you’re so damned cold.”

“Did Asher say anything?” I asked, changing the subject back.

“Besides apologizing?”

“Micah!” I said, exasperated.

“Let’s go to bed. I know I could use some sleep.” He lifted me off the couch and brought me into our room. Nathaniel was curled up under the covers and looked lonely, even in sleep.

It didn’t take me long to change into a sleep shirt. Nathaniel curled into me as though he had been waiting for me. Maybe he had been. I felt warm and safe and loved and slipped into a genuinely relaxing sleep.

It didn’t last long. I hadn’t fed the ardeur with Jean-Claude, which meant that I hadn’t fed it at all last night. That wasn’t a huge problem in and of itself. I could store up feedings so that I didn’t panic about it. On the other hand, it was a capricious master at best. The hunger woke me. I had sunk my teeth into Nathaniel’s shoulder before I came awake enough to know what I was doing. He gasped, a mixture of pain and pleasure that aroused and incited.

Micah, like the smart kitty cat that he is, backed away from me as soon as he felt the prickles of power, but stayed close enough to intervene if he thought Nathaniel was in danger. Normally he would have left me to my “meal” such as it was, but we had left normal a long time ago.

I forced myself to swim through the need of hunger and really look at him. I whispered, “Are you sure?”

“Oh, God, yes. Please. I’ve missed you so much, Anita.” His voice was breathy with leashed desire.

I bit his other shoulder hard enough to draw blood. Not much, I just broke the skin, but I lapped at the wound. Nathaniel whimpered. I laughed, need pouring through me, pouring through us. I bit through the skin of his bicep. The muscle felt good against my teeth. He groaned.

I was all over him now, part sex play, part domination. I drew soft sounds, pleas and entreaties, from him with every touch. I could feel it building, the pressure, the power, the release. I crawled down the front of body. His chest and arms and thighs were a mass of teeth imprints. I broke the skin almost every time. His body trembled beneath mine. His cock was hard. I stroked it gently and it jumped in my hand. Nathaniel stifled a cry by biting his lip. My own heart was stuttering as I forced myself not to take him in my mouth. I could do that with sex play but this kind of hunger made teeth a bad combination with sensitive anatomy.

But I wanted more. My hands slipped to his scrotum. I rolled it around in my hand and squeezed lightly. He was begging now, writhing on the bed. His hands came off the bed, reaching for me.

Micah did something he never did. He grabbed Nathaniel’s hands and held them down with his knees. Hunger screamed through his gaze and his hands pinched and flicked Nathaniel’s nipples. Nathaniel arched off the bed as orgasm crashed through him, through me, through Micah with the force of a tidal wave. My vision ran in streamers of color. I didn’t remember collapsing but it was some time before I managed to disentangle myself from all the other naked limbs on the bed. Even then, all I accomplished was moving back into my spot on the bed. Once again both men wrapped themselves around me. I felt physically and emotionally sated and marveled at the feeling. I welcomed the darkness.


Chapter 5

I was alone in the dark when I woke up. The shower was calling my name and I grabbed a change of clothes and headed for the bathroom. Cooking smells wafted down the hallway and I could hear various members of the pard roughhousing and teasing each other. For just a moment, my life felt normal again. Or at least as normal as my life ever got these days.

By the time I made it to the kitchen, food was ready to eat and I was actually hungry. Micah must have cooked because it was a balanced meal. Spaghetti, meatballs, salad and garlic bread. I felt like I hadn’t eaten in days. Unfortunately, I thought that might be true. It took me at least three bites to notice everyone’s eyes on me. My fork dropped with a clink. “Okay, what’s going on?” I asked.

All eyes dropped back to their respective plates. I didn’t want to push it. For another five minutes the only sounds were happy eating noises. Nathaniel finally broke the silence. “Anita, we know something’s wrong. Why won’t you tell us what it is?” There was a subtle accusation in his voice. I had a split second of internal debate before deciding on a truthful evasion.

“You’re right. There is something going on.” I looked at each of my pard one by one, forcing their gazes to mine. “But I’m going to ask you to trust me. I can’t share it with you yet.”

Everyone nodded except Nathaniel. I wasn’t sure what to say. He looked hurt. “It’s not entirely my secret to share,” I said. He looked away from me. Now I was hurt and I’d be damned before I let him do that to me. I was his Nimir-Ra! I pushed away from the table and walked out the kitchen.

“Anita!” Nathaniel’s voice sounded behind me. I stopped but didn’t turn around. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Especially not after this morning.” I felt heat rush through my body and flush my cheeks. I still didn’t move. He was on the ground now, crawling toward me, submissive. He licked quickly across the back of my hand before rubbing his face against it. “But I’m scared.”

That stopped me. “Why?” I asked.

“Because you don’t do this. Oh, you protect us, but not from yourself. It’s been months.”

“Don’t you trust Micah?”

Nathaniel was still on his knees n front of me. “Of course I do. We all do. But he isn’t you.”

I pulled my hand away. “Please give me a little more time. That cannot be too much to ask,” I said and walked into the bedroom. I wasn’t being fair to him or to any of them. But until I told Jean-Claude and Jason, it wasn’t only my secret I was going to reveal. I couldn’t take the chance.

I wasn’t ready to face going to the Circus yet. The murders had made the paper along with the arrest and execution of the vampire responsible. It wasn’t one of Jean-Claude’s. Surprisingly, the vamp was one of Malcolm’s. That didn’t happen very often. At least Jean-Claude should be in a more positive frame of mind. I talked it over with Micah and we agreed that he would take me to the Circus the following evening. Maybe it was cowardice that wanted me to put if off for another day. But I needed to regroup. I had been unusually emotional this last month and fighting it had taken a toll.

I spent the day Christmas shopping. Zane had convinced me to move into the 21st century so I finally had a state-of-the-art computer set-up. Everyone had wisely decided to hang out elsewhere which meant I could shop to my heart’s content. A good thing since I had no idea what I wanted to get anyone. I decided on spa gift certificates for Cherry and Zane. Nathaniel got gift certificates for music, Merle and the rest of Micah’s pard got gift certificates for clothes. I kept moving down my list. I was saving Micah, Jean-Claude, Asher and Richard for last.

What do you get the men who have everything? Richard was actually the easiest. While we may have been on barely civil terms, I still knew him. There was a new compilation of Rogers and Hammerstein on CD as well as a new biography of the composing team. Plus I saw some great caving gear at the local outdoorsman store.

Why was I getting something for Richard? I couldn’t help it. He was one third of our triumvirate. I wanted him whole and healed as much as I wanted the same for Asher. I couldn’t catalog-shop for either Vampire. Their gifts had to be completely unique. But at least it wouldn’t mean going to the mall either. Not this time of year. I would worry about them later.

Micah was also a stumbling block. I still didn’t know him very well. It had only been six months. I still didn’t even know how I felt about him. I mean, I didn’t want it to be love. How can I be in love with all these men? But if it wasn’t love, than maybe I didn’t know what love felt like.

Most of our casual clothes were communal but I bought him some sweaters that were decidedly masculine. Not that he needed help in that arena. Micah may have looked delicate but only until he moved.

When I had finished, I went for a run and the workout felt good. Dinner was on the table by the time I showered and dressed. Micah and I even went out to the movies. We held hands like teenagers. I made it all the way until noon the next day before nerves put butterflies in my stomach. I couldn’t sit still and had a near burning desire to start shooting something. As usual, Micah had me pegged. He was very careful not to touch me or provoke me in any way. But by three, the tension was making me crazy.

Half of my clothes were strewn across the bed as I tried on outfit after outfit. If he was going to dump me, I wanted to look good. Cherry came in to assess my attire. My red lacy camisole showed significant cleavage. The black jacket was sheer at the arms but had opaque panels so I could still wear the Browning. The pants were black and filmy and had a stretch waistband. I hadn’t gained much weight but it was enough that skin-tight was out for the foreseeable future. I felt weird. Not because I didn’t dress up for Jean-Claude but because it mattered so much that I did.

We worked on my makeup for a few minutes. I looked in the mirror and didn’t feel like me, but I had felt disembodied all day, not like I was floating above myself but more like I was watching a movie and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t change the part where the heroine drove over a cliff.

Micah had stopped reassuring me that it was going to be all right. It was only making me more uptight. He focused on reminding me that he wasn’t going to leave me, no matter what happened. That he wouldn’t leave the Circus without me. It said a lot for our relationship that I let him drive. I was too nauseated to talk but he kept his hand clasped over mine. It was the only warmth in my body.

The last time I was this nervous at the Circus was my first time at the Circus. I hadn’t trembled as much then I was doing now. I let us in and we made our way down to Jean-Claude’s chambers. His bedroom door was closed. For all I knew he wasn’t even there. I almost couldn’t bring myself to knock on his door. Micah went to do it for me. I stopped him. If I could bear to crawl down into the oubliette after Gregory, I could knock on my lover’s bedroom door. There wasn’t even a comparison.

The door opened before I had knocked the second time. “Ma petite,” Jean-Claude said,

“It’s good of you to drop by.” Shit. This was going to be harder than I thought.

“Jean-Claude-” I started.

“I must apologize for the other night. Murder investigations are always stressful. I wasn’t up to another interrogation. Why else would you grace me with your presence after over a month of near silence?” I could here the warm edge of anger in his so-smooth voice. The good news was that I was getting pissed.

“If you had bothered to ask, I would have told you that I wasn’t involved,” I said, not trying to defend myself.

“Anita, you can hardly blame me for jumping to conclusions. You are often the first to assume that I must be guilty of something.” My real name. This was not getting better.

“Fine. You want an apology? I’m sorry. Can we get past this crap or do you want me to leave?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay now anyway. That was the amazing thing about my relationship with Jean-Claude. I could go from wanting him desperately to wanting to put several states between us so I wouldn’t do anything drastic. If he wanted a fight, I could do that. I understood fighting. That was easier than what I had come to do.

“Why should tonight be different from any other night this past month? Leaving is always your solution when you can’t shoot up the room. You have no idea how you try my patience. I try to respect your wishes in all things but you have no such consideration for mine!” His eyes were drowning blue and my breath caught in my chest. It was worse because he was right. I hated when my needs hurt others, even when it was unintentional. Tonight would be full of those realizations.

“Good evening, Jean-Claude,” Micah said. The interruption was jarring, as he had intended it to be. Jean-Claude and I broke apart, just enough that I started breathing again on my own.

Mon minet, I didn’t realize you were joining us this evening,” Jean-Claude said. That warm edge of anger was obvious now. But Micah didn’t flinch.

“I brought Anita here. I just wanted to remind her that I would here if she needs me,” Micah said, neutral but pleasant and yet it was clear that he had drawn a line in the sand.

He reached out to me and we touched, just our fingertips. It was enough. Warmth and pleasure flowed between us and I had momentary peace. Jean-Claude’s hand came up and clasped mine. The connection was broken. I mourned its loss.

Jean-Claude looked taken aback. He, too, saw the line but didn’t understand what he had done to provoke its creation. I suddenly understood that for all Micah’s optimism, he was no longer sure of Jean-Claude’s reaction.

The two men stared at each other, Micah unafraid of Jean-Claude’s ability to roll him, counting on Jean-Claude’s sense of decency. I could have told him that was a mistake. That Jean-Claude didn’t have a sense of decency. He liked to win. But he stayed on his best behavior and Micah eventually dropped his gaze without an appearance of having lost. I shook my head. Men! I gave Micah a quick kiss and he squeezed my hand. I felt the warmth all the way to my toes.

Jean-Claude pulled me gently away and said, “Please don’t leave, ma petite. Let us finish this discussion in comfort. Monsieur Callahan, you are free to stay or go but rest assured, she will not have need of you this night.”

Micah looked at me, waiting for acknowledgement. I nodded. I had to do this. Jean-Claude shut the door behind us. I could feel his emotions. Frustration and need poured from him in waves. He pulled me toward him and kissed me deeply.

I gripped his arms tightly and fell into the kiss. It felt so good to hold him. He was warm with someone else’s blood and I didn’t care. I wanted to forget the reason I was here. I wanted to make love with him before he knew the truth. I broke the kiss and buried my face in his shoulder.

The butterflies in my stomach suddenly took up synchronized diving. He put his hands on my shoulders and nuzzled my neck. “I’ve missed you, ma petite. Why did you stay away? Why did you allow me access to your dreams but to no other part of you?” I leaned into him for a moment before I remembered what I had to do.

I pushed away from him and walked as far from him as I could get and still remain in the bedroom. He started to follow me when I turned and held up a hand. “No, stay over there. Please,” I added. I started pacing.

“What is it, ma petite? What’s wrong?” Jean-Claude asked. “You are making me crazy!”

“I’m sorry,” I said. It wasn’t enough. I took my jacket off and removed the Browning and the holster. I didn’t want to have any unnecessary temptations. I felt Jean-Claude gaze hot upon my breasts. He made a move to come closer. I backed away. His hurt radiated to me and tears pricked at the back of my eyelids.

I drank him in for the first time. The outfit wasn’t a new one but it didn’t stop me from appreciating his body and the way the black leather molded itself to his form. A moan escaped me. He took another step toward me. “Please, ma petite. Come to me.” His voice slithered like silk along my spine. It took all my will power to resist the urge to throw myself in his arms. I wanted to do anything but what I had to do. A lone tear slipped down my cheek. I’d be damned if I’d be a coward, however. If he was going to hate me, it was better to get it over with now.

“I can’t come to you. Not until I tell you,” I broke off.

“Tell me what, ma petite?” he encouraged.

“I’m pregnant,” I said and watched him blink. Twice. He didn’t say anything. He just kept looking at me. “Jean-Claude?”

He shook his head as if to clear it. “Ma petite, I thought you just said you were pregnant,” he said, certain that he must have misunderstood. I could understand that thought.

“I did.”

Jean-Claude still stared at me. Okay, he stared at my stomach.

“Mon Dieu, but how? You are using birth control pills. Besides, I thought Monsieur Callahan had taken care of that,” Jean-Claude said. I couldn’t detect anything in his voice beyond shock.

“It’s not Micah’s,” I said.

Ma petite, I am over four hundred years old. I cannot possibly be the father,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was happy about that or not because he was still staring at my stomach.

“No, you aren’t-“ I started.

“It cannot be our Richard’s,” he said, beginning to speculate. “I would know if you had been with him again.”

“No! It’s not Richard’s. God, stop guessing. I’ll tell you who the father is. But you have to promise that there won’t be any retribution of any kind.”

“What do you mean, ma petite?” The warm edge of anger was there suddenly. It was all sinking in just like I thought it would.

“I mean that it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t have any choice. You have to promise that you won’t get angry. I won’t see him punished because of me, because I didn’t give him a choice. You have to promise!” I was crying now, my voice had a slightly hysterical bent.

Jean-Claude came over and took me in his arms. “It’s all right, ma petite. I promise.” He stroked my hair until I had stopped sniffling.

“Jason,” I said, my voice muffled against his shoulder. I wasn’t sure he heard me, though vampires have extraordinary hearing, until he stiffened.

“Jason?” he asked, holding me away from him so that he could see my face.

“Jason is the father of my child,” I said but I couldn’t look at him while I said it.

“My pomme de sang? My Jason fathered your child?” he asked.

I only nodded still staring at the floor. “It was when Musette was here and Belle was pouring the ardeur over me. Nathaniel had passed out at the club. I couldn’t take the chance-” I was babbling and the damn tears had started flowing again. Jean-Claude stopped me with a kiss. It definitely took my mind off things.

“But you are taking birth control,” Jean-Claude said.

“That was the morning after my night with you and Asher,” I flushed just saying the words out loud. “I was so sick. And then we were at the banquet and there just wasn’t time-”

Jean Claude stopped me with another kiss. “Does Jason know?”

I shook my head against his chest. “I had to tell you first,” I said. “I haven’t told anyone but Micah and only because he knew. I think Cherry knows and probably Nathaniel, but they are waiting for me to say something.”

Jean-Claude rocked me for a few minutes before sliding down my body to his knees. He raised the camisole up and pressed kisses against my stomach. I felt the first flutterings of desire tighten things low in my body. “Open for me, ma petite,” he said and I knew he meant the marks. My shields dropped away. He began speaking in French and his voice touched things inside of me that his body never could. I gasped at the sensation, like silk and feathers, only they tickled from the inside. I gripped his shoulders. Then he was holding me again while I shook in a reaction I didn’t understand.

“Shh, ma petite, all is well.” He caressed my hair. “Have you thought of a name for her yet?” he asked.

“Her?” I asked.

Oui, ma petite, you are expecting a little girl. Micah didn’t tell you?”

I looked at him, confused. “A girl?” I repeated. I sounded like a parrot.

Oui, ma petite. You knew it had to be either a boy or a girl?” he asked but I wasn’t paying attention. I was having a girl. I didn’t know what to do with girls. The few times I had ever envisioned children they were boys. Jean-Claude tilted my chin up and kissed me again. “I have called Jason,” he said. I went very still.



Chapter 6

There was a knock on the door before it opened. Jason burst in with a prickling rush of lycanthrope energy. I couldn’t decide if he was dressed for work or a night of clubbing. He was wearing skintight leather pants dyed a glittering gold. His top was fishnet in the same glittering color. He looked, well, like Jason. Young, carefree. And why not. It wasn’t as though he had a lot to worry about. He stripped and served as breakfast food. Not a tough life. I was about to shatter it.

“Jean-Claude, you needed something?” he asked and looking around, spotted me. “Oh, Anita, I didn’t realize you were here. Love the top,” he said and, looking down, “Love the bottoms too.” He smiled his Jason smile, full of deliberate mischief. I resisted the urge to tell him to go away. For just a moment it felt normal. He got a couple of brownie points for making me forget without even trying.

“Come in, my wolf. Sit down.” Jean-Claude waved him to a seat. For the first time I saw Jason hesitate.

“Did I do something wrong?” Jason asked.

“No, my wolf,” Jean-Claude said. Then he turned to me. “I’ll be in the other room,” he said. He gave me a kiss and walked out.

I hadn’t thought about telling Jason. I hated to say it, hated even to think it, but he was kind of incidental to the process. I wasn’t dating Jason. I wasn’t even sleeping with Jason, figuratively or literally. Yet a single act had already changed my life and was about to change his.

“Anita?” Jason asked. “What’s going on?” He hadn’t sat down.

“Sit down, Jason,” I said.

“I think maybe I should stand,” he said.

“Please?” That surprised him. He sat. There was no easy or graceful way to tell him this. I didn’t have the same kamikaze butterflies in my stomach that I had before telling Jean-Claude. Instead, it just hurt.

“I’m pregnant,” I said.

A grin split his face and I could see his body visibly relax. “Anita, that’s great! That’s wonderful! A baby. Wow!” Then the wheels began to turn. Why was I telling him this? Without Jean-Claude in the room. The moment it hit him all the color drained out of his face. He dropped to the floor and crawled over to me using those muscles that humans aren’t supposed to have. It was an extremely submissive gesture. He huddled at my feet, shaking. “Oh, God, Anita. I am sorry, I am so sorry. I never meant for this to happen.” There were tears in his voice.

I sighed. “It’s not your fault, Jason.”

He stopped brushing against my legs. “But you just implied…” His voice trailed off. He tried again. “I thought you were telling me that I fathered your child.”

Because Jason dropped out of college to become a stripper and occasional snack, I had the tendency to forget how smart he really was. He also did his best to hide it behind the wisecracking façade. “As far as I can tell,” I paused. I couldn’t look at him and say it out loud so I studied the silk drapes around the bed. They were the same midnight blue as Jean-Claude’s eyes. “As far as I can tell, you are the father. We can do a paternity test later on to be positive. But it isn’t your fault. It’s not like I gave you a lot of choice.”

Jason moved away from me, though he remained on his knees. He listened to me and started to laugh. “Anita, maybe you don’t remember that day but I certainly do. In detail. Very graphic detail. Every second. I most definitely wanted to be there.”

I blushed so hard my face hurt with the rush. “That doesn’t mean you had a choice. Even if you didn’t want to sleep with me, you would have done it because I am dominant to you. That is coercion.”

“Of course I had a choice. You never would have touched me if you didn’t think I was willing.”

“I couldn’t feed on Nathaniel,” I reminded him.

“And if I had said no you would have torn yourself to bloody ribbons instead. I know you, Anita,” he said.

“Do you?” I asked.

“Better and better all the time,” he said. “How far along are you?” But as soon as he asked it, he put his hand up to forestall me. “Wait a minute, if I’m the father that means you’re over three months along. You had to know before now. You’ve always been regular,” he said.

“How the hell do you know that?” I said, affronted.

“Anita, I’m a werewolf. I can smell the blood,” he said, clearly considering it a stupid question. Meanwhile the blush in my cheeks had intensified to fever-intensity. That was something I just didn’t want to know. That meant that Micah and Jean-Claude and... No. Better not to go there. Ever.

“You’re right. I just finished my first trimester.”

“Is everything healthy? What does the doctor say? Have you had an ultrasound? Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” The barrage of questions, and the fact that he probably wasn’t going to like my answers, made me sit down. Jason wasn’t nearly as irresponsible as he pretended to be.

“I haven’t been to a doctor,” I mumbled.

“Why not?” he asked. He moved to sit next to me but, though he clearly wanted to, purposely didn’t touch me.

“Because that would make it real and there was a chance it would all take care of itself,” I said. It sounded stupid now that I said it out loud.

Jason shook his head sadly. “I thought you were stronger than that,” he said.

I pushed him away from me and stood up. “How dare you judge me? Maybe denial wasn’t the most effective approach but I didn’t want to watch my whole life fall apart in one fell swoop. Until a few minutes ago, the only people who knew were Micah and Dr. Lillian. Not only that, but I didn’t want to ruin your life as well. I mean, I’m not expecting you to make child support payments, but knowing that you have a daughter has to change some things for you,” I spat out.

“A daughter? You’re having a girl?” Jason asked, not trying to hide the awe.

“Jean-Claude told me.”

“I’m sorry I jumped down your throat. I wasn’t judging you. You usually rush to meet problems. It isn’t like you to try to hide.”

I know he didn’t mean to set me off but he did anyway. “I am not hiding!” I practically screamed it at him.

“Fine,” he said and held up is hands in surrender. “When are you planning on telling Richard?” he asked. It wasn’t exactly a safer subject.

Oh, God, Richard. I’d been avoiding even thinking about Richard the last few months. Christmas gifts didn’t count. He wouldn’t take this well. Even if he could handle my pregnancy, he wouldn’t be able to tolerate Jason being the father. No way. It would be signing Jason’s warrant of execution. Over my dead body. Damn, I wanted to go back to the whole secrecy thing. I might have lost friends over it, but they’d end up alive.

“I will tell Richard only when he asks. Not before. Whatever you do, don’t you be the one to tell him! He’ll kill you.”

“I am well aware of that. I wasn’t planning on telling him, but he is going to hear about it and he will ask me what I know. I can’t lie to him,” he said. Jason’s face was unusually serious.

I was pacing now. He had a good point. It put him between a rock and a hard place. I was afraid that Richard really would kill him. Richard and I may not be dating but he’d be more than pissed about Jason. Shit. He couldn’t handle seeing Jason touch me during Musette’s visit and that was barely sexual. I would bet money that he doesn’t know I’d really been with Jason. “If he asks who the father is, tell him you don’t know,” I said.

“Anita, he’s my Ulfric. He’ll smell that I’m lying.”

“Fine. But start there. Then when he calls you on it, look uncomfortable and tell him that I don’t know. He’ll believe that. He already thinks I’m a slut,” I said.

Jason look disconcerted and opened his mouth to refute my statement. I held up my hand. “Don’t. Just let it go. I’ve had to.” He closed his mouth for a moment.

“What about Jean-Claude?” Jason asked. Serving two masters must often put him in a difficult spot. Especially when one was constantly at the other’s throat.

“What about Jean-Claude?” I replied.

“We know that Richard will damage me when he finds out. I’m guessing that Jean-Claude already knows. Am I going to have to leave town for my own safety?” He said it with a smile but it was clear that he wasn’t entirely joking.

“No. I made Jean-Claude promise that he wouldn’t hold this against you before I told him,” I said. Jean-Claude had promised but I wasn’t certain if I could hold him to it. I couldn’t tell from our earlier conversation how he really felt. But I wouldn’t let him hurt Jason, not for this.

“Thanks, Anita,” he said and walked over to me. He put his arms around me.

“Anita, I know you don’t think I’m responsible for this, but I would like to be a part of it. There’s a good chance I’ll never have kids of my own. I mean, what normal will want to marry a shapeshifter? And any shapeshifter tied to the moon can’t have kids. This may be my only opportunity.”

I remembered the first time I was with Jason after I had inherited the ardeur. When I could see into his heart. His open desire for me, just for me, not for any hidden reason. I realized I could still see into his heart and that he wanted this child in the same way. He didn’t mean for this to happen but it did and he would step up to the plate willingly. Maybe I had misjudged them all.

“Sure, Jason. You can participate however you want. I already promised Micah that I would make an appointment with a doctor this week. I’ll let you know when it is. But, Jason, Micah…,” I trailed off.

He released me and stepped back so that he could grin at me, that grin that will see him a goodly way into Heaven before someone realizes they made a mistake. “Hey, I know Micah is going to the public ‘father”. I mean, he’s your Nimir-Raj. But I want to be involved. God,” he said. “Pregnant. I cannot believe it. Can I touch?” he asked. I nodded. He put his hand on my stomach. I wasn’t really showing yet unless you knew. Then you could feel the changes, the gentle roundness of my belly.

He left his hand on my stomach and kissed me very, very gently. “Thanks, Anita,” he said and walked out of the room. I thought I saw the silver of tears on his cheek but I didn’t call him back.



Chapter 7

Jean-Claude came in through the open door, looked at me and whatever he saw there caused him to take me into his arms and press me close. I began to tremble in reaction. He just held me and murmured softly in French. I even understood some of what he said. I hadn't realized I was cold until Jean-Claude's stolen warmth seeped into me. Muscles began to loosen. The worst was over. I hoped.

Jean-Claude had closed the door behind him and when he thought I was warm enough, he released me to run the bath. When he returned he began undressing us both. I hadn’t moved from where he left me and I stood passively under his hands. But when I was naked in front of him and he just stood and stared, I felt a blush rise. "You are so beautiful, ma petite," he told me. I shook my head but in his arms, I did feel beautiful. He brushed his fingers over my nipples. It was the barest of touches but I gasped as they tightened. "So much more responsive," he whispered and I felt things tighten low in my body. He leaned his head to take one of my nipples in his mouth but at the touch of his tongue I literally swooned in his arms. Next thing I knew he was lowering me into the steamy water.

He bathed me tenderly. I felt boneless, weightless and nearly mindless. Not with pleasure, but with nothingness. I had told Jean-Claude my secret and he hadn’t thrown me out but there was still a tension between us that frightened me. I wanted to channel that fear into anger, anger was one of my best things, but I couldn’t work up that much emotion. I think Jean-Claude understood because he didn’t make any demands on me, even his touch was comforting rather than arousing. We didn’t speak but the silence didn’t bother me.

When the water grew cool, he lifted me out, dried me off and began to rub my skin with fragrant lotion he had pulled from somewhere. He paid particular attention to my stomach, smoothing the lotion with steady strokes. I held onto his shoulders and bit my lip to stop the tears. I should have been over the hormone fluctuations by now. But the littlest thing still brought me to tears. I hated it. They made me feel weak. When he was through, he put on a pair of black silk pajama bottoms. I was further surprised when he nudged my arms up so that he could dress me in a diaphanous piece of black silk that aroused me merely by its touch. I gasped. My skin had become so much more sensitive lately.

He lifted me up in his arms again and his skin was heated against me. We were both tucked up in bed, I was resting my head on his chest, hugging him close to me, my thigh curled over one of his legs, my arm around his stomach, before he spoke to me. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked. I tried to detect emotion in his tone but he was a master at neutral.

I debated what to say, whether to tell him the truth or not. My lips were resting not too far from his nipple and I snaked my tongue out to flick at it. I was hoping to distract him but he flipped us over, “Non, ma petite, not tonight,” he said. My eyes widened and the pit in my stomach that had finally begun to close down, opened wide again.

“You don’t want me?” I squeaked. God, I hated being this needy. It went against everything I had tried to be. But I never thought that he might not want me because I was pregnant. I mean I thought he might break up with me but not that he wouldn’t want me.

“Oh, ma petite, I always want you,” he said and kissed me. The kiss quickly intensified in depth and I was panting when he finally released my lips. He licked his own and my heart skipped a beat. “But I think tonight I would just like to hold you. Tomorrow night I can show you just how much I’ve missed you. But tonight I want you to sleep in my arms and know that you are safe.”

I couldn’t stop the single tear that spilled down my cheek. I had rejected his love so often and he had pursued me anyway. He wiped the tear away with he thumb and laid a gentle kiss where it had been. “Je t’aime, ma petite,” he said and rolled us back again so that I was protected in the curve of his arm.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier, ma petite?” he asked again. I still didn’t want to answer. He tilted my chin up so that I would meet his gaze. I looked away but I gave in.

“Micah knew I was pregnant before I did. He sensed it when we had sex. I thought you would be able to tell as well. I thought this might have crossed your line.” I was barely whispering now but I knew his vampiric hearing would catch it all. “I knew that you said that Jason was an acceptable partner but I didn’t think that included getting me pregnant. I wasn’t ready to lose you. Not when so many first time pregnancies end in natural miscarriages. I wanted to wait until I was sure,”

Ma petite, there is nothing you could do that would make me stop loving you or stop wanting you. This complicates our lives but we will manage.” He laid his palm on my stomach and closed his eyes, a small smile played about his lips.

I realized in that moment that he was happy about this. Shocked of course, but happy. “You want this baby,” I said, surprised.

Oui, ma petite. I never thought to have children. It wasn’t an option when I was still human and certainly not when I was made vampire. But watching you grow round with child, flush with that new life, will be a greater pleasure than I could have dreamed.” The marks between us flared and I gasped with sensation. “Speaking of dreams, did you enjoy yours?” he asked, and his voice sent shivers of pleasure up and down my spine. I wriggled and pressed against him.

“Yes,” I said on a gasp. My hand went wandering and he stopped it with his own. “Do you want to do those things with me?” I asked, remembering what he and Asher had done with their hands, their mouths, their bodies. My breath caught in my throat.

“Oh, yes, ma petite, very much. I have waited a long time for you to be willing. I have no wish to frighten you but there are things I have not done, things that I very much wish you to experience.” His hands were stroking me now, but not to arouse me. It was a comforting touch and my body moved away from the edge of need. “Tomorrow night we may begin but tonight, I thought another dream might be in order. Sleep in my arms, ma petite, and accept the pleasure.” He reinforced his request with his voice and I felt myself drifting.

When I opened my eyes, I was still wrapped around Jean-Claude. He looked at me, his eyes drowning midnight. My heart stuttered at the desire in his. Was it tomorrow already? When he bent his head to capture my lips, I lifted my head to meet him. His lips were like warm velvet. I opened my mouth against the pressure and his tongue swept in, silky and sensuous. I wanted more and we had hardly begun.

I was still wearing the nightgown he had put on me but as I stroked down his back to his firm buttocks, I realized he was naked. I wriggled closer to him as though I could melt into his body. It had been too long since I had felt him against me, inside me. My breath quickened and I broke from his lips to begin kissing his face, his neck, his chest. Whatever I could reach.

I heard the door open and close again but when I looked up I didn’t see anything. The bed moved and I felt the heat of another body next to me. It touched mine but it wasn’t the body I expected. I froze and my breathing quickened to sharp, short intakes. Micah lay on the other side of me. He stroked my body and said, “If this scares you we’ll stop. If we overwhelm you at any time, you can stop us.” I stopped breathing, stopped moving, stopped thinking. “We just want to bring you endless pleasure, Anita,” Micah murmured against my ear. My arm reached back to stroke his hair and he took advantage of my position to move his hand under the gown. Since he and I had been making love, he knew that my nipples had become frighteningly sensitive so he kept his touches light. There would be time soon enough to bring me screaming. It seemed to have become Micah’s favorite thing to do, draw screams from me.

I moaned and Jean-Claude looked at him, his eyes flaring with power. “Please, Jean-Claude, please love me,” I begged. He tore the gown from my body and the cool air was startling. I felt a measure of Jean-Claude’s ardeur but my own was still quiet. That meant this was all for me. What I wanted. I trembled. It had been hard enough for me to get used to Jean-Claude and Asher but now with Micah, my God. My sheltered Midwestern upbringing had not prepared me for hands and mouths touching, sucking, stroking.

Micah focused on the upper half of body, rendering me nearly senseless with drugging kisses. I couldn’t get enough of his mouth, his tongue. I arched toward him every time he pulled away. His hands were at my breasts, no longer gentle. He tweaked and tugged on the nipples and I could feel every touch like an electric shock. I grabbed him, held on, and tried to reconcile the hands at my breasts to the hands between my legs.

Jean Claude had watched but had not stayed idle. I felt his tongue at my belly button, teasing, tasting. His hands stroked, eventually touching the damp heat between my legs. I jumped as they entered me, probing deeply but gently. His mouth followed. The touch of his tongue between my legs was as electric as Micah’s has been at my breasts. He began to focus on my pleasure center, sucking and laving. My body began to take on a life of its own, no longer responding to me as the sensual power increased. I reached for Micah to draw him closer, I could barely hold onto him. Jean-Claude was moving faster now, bringing me ever close to the edge but not letting me go over. Every time he knew I was close, he backed off.

Suddenly he was focused, intense. I felt fangs and my eyes widened. Micah kissed me as though he would climb through my body with his mouth. I heard Jean-Claude in my mind. “Tonight there will be blood,” he whispered. I had almost enough time to process that when I felt a fang nick my clitoris. Blood welled and he sucked the wound. I bucked against the bed so hard I thought I might hurt myself. He didn’t just push me over that shining edge of orgasm, he propelled me there. I couldn’t breathe but my scream was endless.

When I eventually came back to the world, my men were on either side of me, displayed in all their erect glory, looking exceptionally smug. I wasn’t seeing clearly yet, my world was still streaming colors and aftershocks of an ecstasy so great I wasn’t sure I could withstand another round of that intensity. Micah kissed my forehead and when he leaned back, Jean-Claude took my lips. I could taste myself.

“Are you all right, ma petite?” he asked and the sensuality of his voice slithered around my body like a robe.

Speaking required more energy or at least more focus than I had at the moment. I knew that later this would all hit me and I’d be embarrassed and probably a little frightened by the intensity. But for now, I reveled in the skin tingling rush. I blinked a few times and tried to take deep breaths, tying to stop the ragged panting. A hand reached out and stroked my hair. We weren’t done yet. Not even close. When I thought I had a little more control, I reached out both hands to fold around their erections. Both were velvet-and-silk wrapped steel but there the resemblance ended. Micah was disproportionately large for his size, though considering he was my height, that wasn’t altogether surprising. He wasn’t merely long, he was thick and I couldn’t close my hand easily around the shaft. I stroked until he groaned deep in this throat.

Jean-Claude was the color of living marble, alabaster, smooth and sleek, long and hard. He was the first uncircumcised man I had been with and I smoothed the foreskin down the shaft, He jumped in my hand and I squeezed a little tighter. His head fell back and he inhaled sharply.

“You bit me,” I said, my mental gears finally clicking back into place. My voice was hoarse. High pitched, continuous screaming has a tendency to do that.

Non, ma petite, if I were to truly bite you, particularly there, you wouldn’t yet be conscious,” he said and the look in his eyes caused my heart to skip several beats. My head fell back revealing the line of my neck and Jean-Claude was on me. “I need you, ma petite,” he said with a voice rougher than I was used to hearing. He spread my legs and pushed between them. His first thrust was steady and powerful and I arched to meet it.

Jean-Claude was not gentle but I welcomed the feel of him in my body. Micah was watching us with a mixture of lust and awe. I wanted him too. Before I could think better of the idea, I grabbed his thigh and murmured, “I want you.” It was almost too much between the thrusting of Jean-Claude’s body into mine and my own ardeur, which had risen to delight in its fresh feeding.

“Are you sure?” Micah asked, concern evident in his voice but desire still clouding his eyes.

“Come to me,” I said, “Please.”

Jean-Claude had moved me in such a way that Micah could straddle my chest. I stroked down one of Jean-Claude’s arms before putting both hands on Micah’s buttocks and guiding him to my mouth. We never did it this way because he was too large to fit comfortably in my mouth but this was a night for changing the rules. My tongue snaked out and licked the head. Micah groaned and gripped the headboard. I thought that the headboard might have imprints of his fingers. I opened my mouth wider and took more of him inside. Every once in a while, Jean-Claude would thrust in such a way that left me breathless, the pleasure spilling over. Micah was trying desperately to let me do the work but when my teeth scraped lightly against him, he couldn’t help but flex his hips in reaction. He went deeper than he had planned and I struggled, pleasure burning to fear. He backed off immediately. Only my grip on his buttocks kept him from leaving my body altogether.

“Anita, oh God, I’m sorry,” Micah said, only semi-erect now. Fear has a way of killing passion and Micah was not yet out of control. But soon, I knew, soon we would all lose control. The pleasure had been building. I knew it wouldn’t take more than a moment to return Micah to readiness.

“Micah, I’m fine. Please let me taste you. I need to taste you. I need to feel you,” I begged, half out of my mind with desire. He was smaller now and easier to take. He didn’t stay small for long. Jean-Claude’s thrusts had gotten sharper, deeper, longer. Every movement rubbed against my clitoris and I knew it wouldn’t be long. I focused on licking and sucking at Micah as though he were candy. His breathing had grown ragged. Hell, even Jean-Claude, who didn’t need to breathe, was gasping. I kneaded Micah’s buttocks and moved between them, fingering the sensitive rim of his anus. Jean-Claude’s hands snaked around and raked Micah’s nipples from behind. The suddenness of his action caused Micah to rear up and thrust hard and deep within my mouth. My eyes widened but it wasn’t unexpected this time and I didn’t react in fear. I swallowed each jet of creamy liquid. My body had tensed however, and I squeezed Jean-Claude with all the internal muscles I had. He shouted my name and I felt his heat flood my lower regions. My own orgasm burst over me like fireworks and the ardeur, mine and his, took the opportunity to feed. There were so many bodies touching mine, so many fluids, so much pleasure.

Micah drew away from me as soon as he was able to and Jean-Claude did the same. They crawled up on either side of me. I was barely conscious. Both put their hands on my belly protectively. Even in my hazy state, I realized that Micah might have some competition for the father title. I never expected that.

Mon minet,” Jean-Claude said, drawing Micah’s attention to him. He leaned over my body and Micah met him halfway. Their lips met in a gentle kiss. “Merci,” Jean-Claude said. Micah merely cocked his head and smiled. Without warning, I was asleep.


Chapter 8

I woke slowly, my languid body enveloped by a living electric blanket. The full moon was only a day away and Micah’s body temperature had risen accordingly. When Nathaniel was in bed with us, it was like sleeping in an oven. Great in the winter. Actually, Micah didn’t like either of them sleeping with me too close to the full moon. Not unless we were sure the ardeur had been sated. Micah had never slipped his control with me but he wasn’t interested in pushing that edge. The last two months had been hard on him.

Memory assailed me as I came fully aware and the hot blush stained more than my cheeks. Micah was awake. His body tensed around mine and he smoothed a hand down my silk-covered hip. I stopped breathing. The nightgown that Jean-Claude had slipped on me, the one he had torn from my body, was unscathed. Hell, I was wearing it.

“It was just a dream, Anita. Just a dream,” Micah whispered in my ear. If anything, I blushed harder. Every time I believe I’m beyond embarrassment, I’m proven wrong. I relaxed against him again and turned in his arms.

“Were you there?” I asked. I didn’t know how Jean-Claude controlled the dreams. I knew that in those that Asher had been in, he had been a fully aware participant.

“No, but when Jean-Claude woke me a little before dawn, he told me that he had included me. I used my imagination. Particularly since you were still flushed, though the dream had ended hours earlier.”

My face kept heating. At this rate, we’d be able to cook on my cheeks. “It was intense,” I said. The understatement of the year. I rolled away from him and got off the bed. My limbs were stiff from being in one position for so long. The lights were on full daylight mode and I wondered about the time. I wasn’t wearing my watch. “What time is it?” I asked.

“A little after ten,” Micah said, watching me move the way a cat watches a mouse. It made me a little nervous but he apparently realized what he was doing and shook his head as if to clear it.

“Wow. I haven’t had this much sleep in ages.” I felt rested. My world had not fallen apart. Yet. There was still more to come. But not right away. I used the bathroom, brushed my teeth and got back into bed. Since I couldn’t have coffee, lying between silk sheets was the only vice left to me. Assuming I wasn’t shooting someone. Micah laid a gentle kiss on my lips.

“We have to tell the pard,” he said. I nodded. It was time. “But the real question is when to tell Richard.” I recoiled but he wouldn’t let me go. “He’s going to find out sooner or later. Wouldn’t you rather it comes from you?”

“Yes, but not yet. He’ll hurt Jason, Micah. He’ll hurt him for something that wasn’t his fault. It’s one of the few times he’ll damage first, ask questions later. I’ve just shaken Jason’s world. I don’t want to destroy it!” I wanted to finger my knife or my gun but they weren’t by the bed. I had begun to feel safe at the Circus and didn’t sleep with my gun under the pillow most of the time.

“I understand, Anita. I even agree with you. But there are going to be werewolves who know and Richard is not going to take that well at all.”

“You barely know him, how do you know how he’ll react?” I asked.

“He’s a man who loves you as hard as he’s trying to hate you. This is going to be a huge blow to him. It will be better if he hears it from you. As long as Jean-Claude or I am there too,” he added, almost as an afterthought

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. “I don’t need you to protect me!” Anger put fresh but more familiar heat on my face.

“It means that Richard, as alpha as he is, sometimes doesn’t have a good handle on his temper. I want to be there if he loses it.” Micah was matter-of-fact and I knew he was right. He hadn’t even been here the morning that Richard had laid waste to this very bedroom, the morning after Jean-Claude and I had had sex for the first time.

I didn’t say anything for a long moment. He was right and I hated it. Hated when I had to worry about someone other than myself. How could I protect a baby from my life? I sighed. “I’m not ready to tell Richard yet. I’m not showing yet. I don’t see him that often. I want to wait a while longer. I don’t think our people will tell him. I know Jason won’t.”

Now it was Micah’s turn to be silent. I wasn’t expecting an argument. He said what he wanted to say and if I disagreed, that was my right. “What about your parents?”

Okay, I didn’t get an argument. But he still kept pushing. I wanted to tell my parents less than I wanted to tell Richard. “Can we not go there at all? I don’t see them. I’m not going home for Christmas. They don’t have to know yet.”

“I haven’t met your family. If you believe that’s the best option, go with it. I only want you happy, Anita. You know that,” he said and stroked a hand through my hair. “I assume you’ll tell the other shifter groups after you tell Richard. But what about RPIT? And Animator’s Inc?”

All my good feelings leftover from the dream were gone now. Reality was always a slap in the face. Work wasn’t an issue. I didn’t owe them explanations. So far pregnancy wasn’t affecting my job. I’d tell them when it became obvious. Dolph was a different story. Our relationship was stiffly civil these days. He was going to explode. Particularly since he would want to know who the father was. I didn’t want to be in the same room with him when I told him. But it was more than that. Working with RPIT had been dangerous in the past. I’d been hurt, sometimes seriously, sometimes not. Now was not the time to be taking chances. I know they had learned a lot but they still needed me. It all came down to choices and mine were running out.

I wrapped my arms around my bent leg and laid my chin on my knee. “I know, Micah, I know. I may be the queen of avoidance, but I know.” Micah hadn’t even mentioned Ronnie or Catherine. God, I wanted to shoot something now. And Edward. I couldn’t even imagine how Edward would react.

Micah must have sensed my mood because he took my hand and held it. Just held it. Let me feel his warmth, his heat, his support. He had said to me that we’d get through this together. Maybe we would. “Okay,” I said, “Let’s get this show on the road.” I moved to get out of bed when Micah stopped me.

“They’re all here, just waiting anxiously for you to wake up.”

Micah got up and opened the bedroom door. They must have been right outside because they bounded in and pounced on the bed. I was suddenly surrounded by bodies in various state of dress, or perhaps that would be undress. Nathaniel snagged the spot closest to me, Zane threw himself at my crossed legs, chin in his hands, heels practically kissing his butt. Cherry curled herself at Micah’s feet but she made sure to be touching Zane. Merle and Noah were more circumspect, stationing themselves on the sides of the bed. Merle relaxed enough to sit in a chair. Caleb flopped onto one corner of the bed, Gregory grabbed another. Gina nudged Caleb over while Violet knelt by Noah. Vivian wasn’t there. She was with Stephen, which was just as well.

I looked around at my pard, My family. Sure, they were cannon fodder. I hated to have them around in a fight because most of them would either get in my way or in the way of the bad guys. They bled a lot around me. But I could no longer imagine life without them. Even Caleb’s smart-ass comments had ceased to rile me. Much.

They waited expectantly. I debated how to phrase it, how to preface it. In the end, I just told them. “I’m pregnant.”

There was dead silence. I couldn’t even hear people breathing. Nathaniel moved before he spoke, his hand caressing my abdomen. “A baby? You’re having a baby?” There was awe in his voice. I guess neither shifters nor vampires have much cause to be around babies because there was a lot of awe to be had every time I told people.

I looked at Cherry. She was biting her lip and the look of concern was too obvious to ignore. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

She didn’t saw anything for a long moment. “I know you’ve cut out the coffee, but, Anita, you have a dangerous job. You’re still consulting with the police. You don’t even realize how much you do for yourself that you shouldn’t be,” she said.

“I know. You’re right,” I replied and tried not to sound annoyed.

“Have you been to a doctor?” she asked.

I found an excuse to look at Nathaniel and stroke his hair. “Doctor Lillian confirmed that I was pregnant.” It was true as far as it went.

“No, I mean a human obstetrician. You need to be taking prenatal vitamins. You need to have an ultrasound. You need…,” she trailed off. I heard it anyway. You need to keep the baby safe.

“I’m making an appointment this week,” I said. I couldn’t get angry. They only wanted to keep me safe. Funny but I thought that was my job.

Caleb finally asked the question that I knew was in everyone’s mind. “So, who’s the lucky daddy? It’s not Micah,” he stated with a knowing smirk.

Micah had begun massaging my shoulders, which meant it was too difficult for me to lean over and slap the sly grin off Caleb’s face. “Caleb, shut up,” Merle said. Sometimes I forgot that Micah hadn’t always been Nimir-Raj. We had never discussed it. That hadn’t been a good time for Micah, Merle or any of them, those days running from Chimera. He was Nimir-Raj now, which is all that mattered. I let the whole exchange go.

I debated how I wanted to answer the question. If I told them the truth, the chances that Richard would hear about it increased. If I lied, well that wasn’t an option. I’d put too many people in a bad position. Unfortunately, too many people in this room knew what had happened that day. They’d put it together. Sooner rather than later. “I need a promise from all of you that you won’t tell anyone,” I said.

Nathaniel looked hurt. “You can trust us, Anita, you know that.”

I stroked his hair again. “I do trust you. But telling you endangers the other person. You are all mine,” I said and looked at each one in turn. “But I will hurt you if I find you’ve deliberately discussed this with anyone not in this room except Jean-Claude.” I debated about adding Asher and Damien but since they didn’t know yet and I wanted to tell them, I figured I could always amend that threat.

Gina weighed in. I still didn’t know her well and she was slow to trust. I didn’t hold it against her because I was, too. “I thought you were supposed to protect us?” she asked.

“Just because I won’t let others hurt you, doesn’t mean that I won’t.” I met her eyes and she looked away first. “Anyone who can’t agree to this is free to leave the room now.” No one moved.

“Jason is the father of this child,” I announced. I saw nods of surprise and others of remembrance and acceptance. “It wasn’t his fault so don’t treat him as though he did something wrong or screwed something up for us. I am still Nimir-Ra and I will still protect you. You have my word.” They all touched me then, licking my hands, my arms, affirming that they were mine.



Chapter 9

I dressed and we left the Circus in search of something to eat. The day was bright, I was armed and no one was trying to kill me. I took pleasure in the little things. We went back to the house after lunch and just played. Frolicked might be a better word. We did the kind of things that families did, roughhousing, and teasing and touching. Everyone was gentle with me, but then they usually were. My more-than-human strength still no match for that of shape shifters. By the time it got dark, we were exhausted. The pard went out to the movies and I took a nap. I was going back to the Circus soon and I didn’t expect to get much sleep once I got there. Not only would I have to tell Damian and Asher, but I’d also be spending the night with Jean-Claude. In the flesh. I wasn’t sure my heart could take the real thing. Just thinking about it made things low in my belly grow tight.

I woke after a couple of hours. Just in time to heat up something for dinner. There was leftover Chinese in the fridge. I could always count on that. It was the only place willing to deliver. Cashew Chicken and Crab Rangoon. I ate, showered and dressed. I wore something I knew Jean-Claude would like, a dark sapphire sheath almost the color of his eyes with both enough fabric and high enough slits to make wearing the belly band a possibility, not to mention hiding my stomach effectively. The fact that it also plunged down my cleavage rendering a bra an impossibility, only added to its appeal. From Jean-Claude’s perspective, I mean. Hell, he bought me the damn dress. I added a gossamer navy jacket and a pair of strappy, low-heeled sandals. A little eye makeup and I was ready to go. I looked at the mirror both pleased and disconcerted. I still couldn’t believe I would dress up like this. Love definitely makes you stupid.

I didn’t tell Jean-Claude when to expect me, though I knew he felt my presence as soon as I walked in the entrance. I moved through the candle-lit halls with an ease of familiarity that bothered me when I thought about it too deeply. Jason’s door was closed but I could see a whisper of light from the bottom. I rapped and he yelled for me to come in.

He was just sort of lounging on the bed staring at the walls. I was a little surprised he wasn’t prepping for his stint at Guilty Pleasures. His eyes flicked to me and then away. “Hey, Anita, did you need something?” he asked without leering or teasing or doing any of the typical Jason things that cause me to draw my gun.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

That got me a look. “You’re joking right? How can you ask me what’s wrong?”

I sighed. “Jason, I told you, this wasn’t your fault. I don’t blame you.”

Jason rolled over on his back. For a change, he was fully dressed in T-shirt and jeans. His bare feet hung over the side of the bed. “You may not blame me, but Richard will. And Jean-Claude does.”

“What are you talking about? Jean-Claude doesn’t blame you. He promised me that he wouldn’t,” I said. I’d be pissed if Jean-Claude went back on that promise.

“He didn’t call for me when he woke,” Jason said. The wave of depression was almost palpable.

“Jason, he doesn’t always feed on you,” I said.

“Anita, I’m his pomme de sang. If he weren’t angry with me, he would have called me. He didn’t feed on me last night. It was my turn.” There was surety in his voice but his face was incredibly downcast. I had never seen Jason like this. I’d seen him frightened, I’d seen him resigned, but I’d never seen him sad.

“He’s just being considerate,” I said.

He laughed, a harsh bark. “You don’t understand. I’ve told you that it’s amazing when he feeds. He knows that I come to him willingly. I love it when he rolls me. Anita, when Richard finds out, if he doesn’t kill me, he’ll do something worse. I’ll be an outcast in the pack. If Jean-Claude kicks me out, I’ll have nothing.” A tear fell and he wiped it from his cheek with an angry motion.

I sat on the bed and stroked his hair. “Jason, you won’t be alone. I won’t allow it.”

“Yeah, like I’m going to join your pard? I’m a werewolf, Anita, not a kitty cat. You aren’t lupa anymore. You can’t protect me in the pack, not the way you could before. But it isn’t your problem. You have enough on your plate.” I could almost see him pull himself together. “I’ll be fine.” I was being dismissed.

“Jason, you’re mine. Don’t forget that. Even more so now,” I said with complete finality. I didn’t know why Jean-Claude didn’t feed off Jason tonight but I knew it had nothing to do with him being angry. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for work?” I asked.

He shrugged. “It isn’t like I have done this routine before.” He took a quick peek at his watch. “I still have time.” He pillowed his arms behind his head and went back to staring at the ceiling. There was nothing I could do so I went to find Jean-Claude.

If there was ever a reason that prevented me from choosing Jean-Claude over the others, it was that he could send me from lust to rage without even being in the room. I never had bland feelings about Jean-Claude.

I knocked on Jean-Claude’s door but there was no answer. I was about to open it when I felt a presence behind me. I whirled, gun in hand. Damian put his hands up. “Damn, Damian, you should know better than to sneak up on me like that!” I said, putting the gun up.

He shrugged, not particularly apologetic. “I felt your presence. I assumed that you felt mine.”

He was right of course. If I had been paying attention, I would have felt him. Through a series of metaphysical accidents, I had bound Damian to me as my vampire servant. No one outside of Jean-Claude and his inner circle knew this. Humans just don’t have vampire servants. It’s the other way around. But Damian was mine now and I spent a lot mental energy trying not to hurt him in ignorance. I had done that once already and had no desire to repeat the experience. He had a coffin in my basement, but he was old enough to prefer the safety of the Circus. When he was at my house, I felt him all the time. Now that he was in front of me, I not only felt him but I wanted to touch him. My hands, even the one with the gun, closed into fists.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I wanted to see you anyway but I got distracted.” I didn’t want to have this conversation in the hallway but I also wasn’t sure I could just appropriate Jean-Claude’s living room.

“Would you like to come into my room?” Damian asked.

I hadn’t been in Damian’s room before. I nodded before I could think better of the idea. He led me down a corridor off the main hallway. Its candle-lit sconces cast flickering amber shadows on the wall. He opened the door and motioned me inside. The room was done largely in emerald. Not the walls, which were the same pale amber as the shadows had been, but the comforter and pillows on the bed. Even the silk sheets glowed green. The furniture was mahogany. There was a bookcase filled with books on every subject but predominantly history. His own, I suspected. The room suited him.

“Sit down,” I said, even though it was his room. But I was the master here and he wouldn’t, couldn’t, think of playing dominant. He sat on the bed. I sat next to him. It was deliberate. I wanted his touch and I couldn’t wait any longer. “Hold me?” I made it a question but he took it for the command that it was. My emotions, which had been roiling under the surface, fear, excitement, and others less extreme, immediately calmed with the first touch of his fingertips against my arm. I sagged into his arms. He held me against his body. It wasn’t sexual, though of course it was; I just chose to ignore it. I welcomed the feeling of ease that trickled through my body wherever Damian touched me. He had lain back on the bed and brought me with him. We were entwined now, his legs between and around mine, my head pillowed against his chest. We stayed that way for a long time, not talking, not moving. If I hadn’t taken a nap, I would have drifted to sleep. As it was, I knew I had to get this over with. I made a motion to move and he released me immediately.

“Thank you,” I said.

He looked at me, blinking slowly, deliberately. “You are welcome,” he replied.

I curled up against the headboard. Now that I was up close and personal with it, I could see the intricate carvings inlaid in the wood. The design only went about halfway across. “Did you do this?” I asked.

He nodded. “It was something I did when I was a warrior. It passed the time. Now I do it in the evenings when I am not expected at Danse Macabre.”

I realized that it never occurred to me to wonder what Damian did when he wasn’t working. I knew he wasn’t hunting. I had forbidden him that. I wondered if being my servant held him back in other ways. “You’re very talented,” I said.

He shrugged. “I’ve had nearly 1000 years to practice. What’s wrong, Anita?”

A sudden chill had me rubbing my arms. I wanted to crawl back into his embrace, at least while I told him, but that was cowardice. “I’m pregnant,” I announced. My eyes flicked to his and then away. I didn’t want to see his reaction.

Damian didn’t say anything but he took one of my hands in his. I didn’t know how to break the silence. The headboard called to me and I traced the carving with my free hand. It was smooth to my touch. “How long will it take you to finish?” I asked as though I hadn’t just told him my secret.

“Does it matter? I have all of eternity.” He didn’t sound happy about that.

I wondered if he really did have all of eternity or whether my own death would kill him. I suppose that neither one of us wanted to deal with that issue. Now it was my turn to ask, “What’s wrong, Damian?”

He stroked my hair. “Nothing’s wrong, Anita.”

I moved so that I could face him. “Could we not go through this again? I’m ordering you to tell me what’s wrong!”

He laughed which was the more unexpected for being real. “Nothing is wrong, Anita, truly. It’s just that after so long, eternity has limited pleasures to offer. I don’t regret my life, certainly not since Jean-Claude ransomed me. I take pleasure in the skills that I honed so many centuries ago, though I have no one here to truly practice my swordsmanship with. I fear I grow rusty. May I touch you?”

It was a long speech for Damian and the non sequitur at the end threw me for a second. Then I knew what he meant. I took his hand and placed it against my stomach. He closed his eyes and was still for a long moment. He smiled and removed his hand.

“You will make a wonderful mother,” he said. I blushed, mostly because I didn’t think it was true. I could barely protect my own as it was.

There was a knock at the door and then it opened. Asher’s golden hair preceded him. I couldn’t help that my breath caught in my throat. He looked at us cozied up on the bed and raised his eyebrow. “Ma cherie, I was told you wished to speak with me,” he said.

I nodded, still incapable of speech. Between him and Jean-Claude, I was becoming insensible. Oh how the mighty continue to fall. Asher came closer to the bed and held out his hand. I took it. His hand was warm and I knew he had fed. There were always plenty of willing donors for Asher. I slid off the bed and moved into his arms. He kissed me, the merest touch of his lips on mine, but it held the promise of much more to come.

I turned back to Damian. “You’ll be all right?”

“Of course, Anita. I know you have a busy night planned and I do have to go to work,” he said.

I looked into his eyes to be sure that he meant it. I can meet his eyes not only because of my natural immunity but because he is mine. However, I couldn’t always read them. They appeared guileless. But I also knew that he wouldn’t protest. Damian had lived 1000 years under a master so brutal that he had learned to sublimate his will in order to survive. Jean-Claude had ransomed him and I was Jean-Claude’s human servant. His association with me, however involuntary, put his life at risk again. Damian deserved better than that only I couldn’t free him. Not from Jean-Claude, not from myself. I reached out and he touched my fingertips. It was enough. It had to be. I followed Asher out of the room.

Asher’s own room was done in creams and golds with splashes of bronze. It suited him and we had spent pleasurable hours in here cuddling. Both Asher and Jean-Claude had been exceptionally careful not to repeat the events of September. They didn’t want to frighten me and we had taken things slowly. I had only been with Asher again in the dreams that Jean-Claude choreographed with such intensity.

He closed the door behind us and took me in his arms again. This kiss was not gentle. His tongue explored and his lips devoured. By the time he released me, I was breathless and a little dizzy. “Asher,” I gasped, “What’s gotten into you?”

“I’ve missed you, ma cherie. The dreams only fueled the need.” He took my lips again. Arousal pulsed through my body. His hands were no longer idle, moving up and down my body with a possessiveness that brought an ache to my heart. My own arms were around his neck and I pressed my body against his, indulging in the feel of his excitement. I needed to share my news before this went farther. I broke the kiss intending to speak.

I opened my mouth as his fingers found me through the slit in my dress. Without further preliminaries, he thrust two fingers into me while using his thumb against my clitoris. I screamed, my world lost in an avalanche of white heat, and went limp in his arms. He withdrew and licked his fingers, slowly, erotically. My heart, which pounded hard enough that all the pulses in my body were visibly pumping, skipped a few beats. He lifted me and placed me on the bedspread. My breathing was labored. Asher crawled up on the bed next to me and was leaning over me, his leg entwined with mine, his arms braced on either side of my chest. His gaze was hot against my skin. I shivered. It took me two tries to find my voice. “Asher, I’m pregnant,” I blurted.

He stopped in mid movement. “What did you say, ma cherie?” he asked, but it was clear that he had heard me. He had been in the process of lowering his body to mine, but instead moved his hand to my stomach and went very still. “How is this possible?” he asked.

“Jason,” I said simply.

He kissed me again, but this kiss held love, not lust. The difference was subtle but there nonetheless. “You will be stunning when you are ripe with child, ma cherie. You already glow.” I didn’t understand the look in his eyes. It was almost pain. He hadn’t moved away from me, but neither had he moved closer.

“What’s wrong, Asher?” It sounded like a theme. Were none of us “right” these days? I brushed my hand through his golden hair.

“Julianna wanted to have a child. My child. Of course that was impossible, but she longed for the experience. She, too, would have looked ravishing. If there had been a human that she fancied, I would have encouraged her. I wanted to see her flush with life. Perhaps if she had lived, if this,” he waved his hand down his side, “had not happened, who knows? To have the experience now, even though you are Jean-Claude’s and not mine, is bittersweet.”

I didn’t know what to say. He never spoke of Julianna, not if he could avoid it. “I’m sorry” seemed inadequate. The fact that I never wanted this pregnancy sounded almost hurtful in light of this revelation. I stayed silent, never a bad choice on my part, and pulled his face down to mine for another kiss. This time I was the aggressor. I wanted to chase the sad memories from his face and replace them with what? Lust? Was I ready for this? Having his hands on me was almost too much but I knew if I stopped, it would hurt him. My lips touched his and his mouth opened. I took advantage and thrust my tongue inside while rubbing my body against his. I never heard the door open.

“I see you have started without me, ma petite.”



Chapter 10

We broke apart as though we had received an electric shock. Perhaps we had. I stared at Jean-Claude, licking my suddenly dry lips. Was he angry? His voice had been remarkably neutral but that only meant he was hiding what he really felt. He looked magnificent. Not that this was a surprise, but all the need I had been suppressing came to the fore. “Jean-Claude,” I said, but it came out as a whisper, barely audible except to that inhuman hearing. I couldn’t take my eyes from him.

He was dressed in all black, from the butter-soft leather boots and pants, the silk of his shirt and jacket, and the curls of his hair. The alabaster of his skin made the contrast so very stark. But his eyes provided all the color necessary. They were already a drowning blue and I wondered how long he had been watching. My breathing was audible and I knew I was staring like a deer in the headlights.

Asher took my hand and kissed it. “Go with your Master, ma cherie. There will be plenty of time later.” I wanted to argue with the terminology but I couldn’t. Not at this moment, not on any level. Jean-Claude must have realized how genuinely incapacitated I was because he took my hand from Asher’s and gently slid me off the bed. My knees didn’t hold.

Jean-Claude lifted me in his arms, his strength made it effortless. I wanted to fight against this too, but I was in his arms and I wanted to be there. There were no tough guys trying to kill us. It wasn’t necessary to posture. I wanted him desperately. I rested my head against his shoulder and began playing with the frills that spilled down his throat. The chuckle that came from the bed was highly masculine. “Je rêverai de vous,” Asher said. I will dream of you both, he said. I felt heat at my cheeks.

I know I didn’t pass out but I must have lost time because we were in Jean-Claude’s bedroom and I had no memory of how we got here. The sheets were the same midnight blue of his eyes. “You look lovely, ma petite,” he said. I didn’t believe him, not exactly, since I was still within the magic circle of his arms. But when he bent his head to kiss me, I didn’t care anymore. My arms, which had been loosely draped around his neck, pulled him tightly into me. I knew he tasted Asher on my lips and somehow that made it more exciting.

“I have missed you too much to go slow tonight, ma petite. Your body calls to mine. But if it is not safe…,” he trailed off.

I wasn’t particularly lucid, but I knew what he was asking. Because of the ardeur, I had had to ask Lillian. “It’s safe,” I told him. “Please love me, Jean-Claude, please,” I gasped.

“For eternity, ma petite,” Jean-Claude said as he lowered me to the floor. He made sure I could stand before he stepped away from me and stared. His hands came up and lightly caressed my breasts. I couldn’t stop the sharp, indrawn breath. It hadn’t hurt but I felt the pull, low and deep. “I will enjoy these tonight,” he said, his voice, always a touchable thing, caressed me from within. I could feel the pleasure build and we hadn’t even begun.

My mind stopped processing coherent thoughts. Jean-Claude continued to admire the outfit for a few moments before he began undressing me. I could tell it took all his control not to rip the dress from my body but instead he unzipped and unhooked and unwrapped like the expert he was. In no time, I was naked before him. Even in front of Jean-Claude, I had to fight the urge to cover myself. I didn’t see Jean-Claude undress himself, but he was suddenly displayed in all his splendor. I swallowed hard.

He slid down my body. When he was on his knees, his hands at my waist, he took one nipple in his mouth and suckled gently, rolling it around, tugging with his lips. I threw my head back and exhaled sharply. He did the same to the other nipple. I whimpered. One of the hands that had been at my waist had moved between my legs. Two fingers slid into me and I had to grasp his shoulders. I couldn’t form words. This wasn’t the need of the ardeur that left me so dazed. It felt like forever since I had been in Jean-Claude’s arms, since he had played my body. I swayed in his arms as he continued his manipulations.

After what felt like an eternity that left tears of need streaking down my cheeks, he lifted me again and placed me on the silk sheets. I didn’t remember him pulling down the bedcovers. I opened my arms to embrace him as he settled between my legs. He was iron hard against me. I arched against him, wanting, needing to feel him inside me. Instead, he moved himself against me, dampening himself on my desire. It wasn’t nearly enough. I kissed every part of him I could reach, his shoulders, his chest, his arms. I licked my way around the cross-shaped burn; my hands traced the whip marks on his back.

He finally brought his face down to mine for a kiss, but it was more like being devoured from the mouth down, both of us battling for victory. His tongue swept my mouth, touched mine and enticed. In my own haste, I nicked myself on his fangs. The blood made him gasp and pull away. “Non, ma petite, my control is not all it should be tonight,” he said. That voice caressed me to the bottom of my soles. It was like having a feather tickle me from the inside. I shuddered.

“Now, Jean-Claude, please now,” I begged and didn’t care. If we didn’t get this first explosion over with, I wouldn’t live through the night.

He parted my legs further and moved them higher up for maximum penetration. He looked at me there, lying open, exposed. Heat climbed through my body. “Mine,” he hissed. I knew what he was going to do an instant before he did it. In one swift motion he drove himself into me to the hilt. I screamed as my back bowed. The orgasm burst over me like a rain cloud exploding. I clung to Jean-Claude who had only just begun the dance. I expected to hear masculine chuckles of satisfaction, but the look in Jean-Claude’s eyes, even through the drowning, pupilless, blue, was of a man straining for control.

He continued to slam into me, driving me into the bed and causing pulsating sensation every time he connected. I held him as close as I could as I rose to meet his thrusts. Jean-Claude didn’t have to be careful the way Micah did or Richard. He didn’t have to worry about bruising me or tearing me. But he was rarely this unmindful of my mostly human status. I could feel him deep inside me, hot, hard. I could feel my own wetness, my own desire, lubricating him with every pounding of his flesh into mine. “Look into my eyes, ma petite,” he whispered, his voice unusually hoarse. I was suddenly afraid, remembering other times when we did this, other times when I lost myself in that endless midnight. But I couldn’t deny him.

The marks flared open between us, all the love, the passion, almost touchable, tasteable. He had believed that my absence meant he was losing me, that I was withdrawing from him, distancing myself, making a choice. The pain had been unbearable. It was like losing Julianna all over again only worse, because I was his and I was ripping his heart out. He loved me with all his heart, something I kept refusing to believe, but was now so clear. I had never wanted anything so much as to reassure him that I really was his.

I finally found my voice. “Je t’aime, Jean-Claude. I love you,” I screamed as he drove hard and fast. His hands were busy tugging at my nipples, kneading my breasts. I felt the frissons of need curling around my pleasure center. I moaned and tried to remember to breath. I suddenly realized that the dreams, though tactile, lacked both taste and scent. I had had the memory of Jean-Claude’s cologne and the taste of his skin in those dreams but the real thing was so much more. His scent was rich and fresh, his skin so soft again my tongue and teeth. I wanted to mark him, brand him mine forever. My nails raked down his back when he ground his hips against me.

Without warning he flipped us over. It was sharper from this angle. He loved to see me above him, pleasuring myself with his body. His spread his legs wide, doing the same to mine, making the penetration particularly deep. He pushed himself into me rhythmically. His eyes still held mine, but he was fast losing control. He pulled me to him to feast at my mouth and moved his hand between our bodies. His fingers knew just where to touch me. I burst into flame, flashes of heat burning me to the core. I clenched him tightly internally and felt orgasm crash over him. He convulsed under me and gasped my name. I could feel the spray of warmth deep inside. I collapsed against his chest, my own chest heaving with the effort to take in enough oxygen. Aftershocks rippled through me.

He flipped us over again. My arms were boneless around his neck. He kissed my cheeks, my neck, my collarbone, the hollow at my throat. I didn’t think I had arousal left in me, but my body responded to his touch as though I were still starving. The chuckle he gave held that masculine satisfaction I had expected earlier. I couldn’t find it in myself to protest, mostly because that would have required speaking and once again my voice had deserted me. He must have realized because he whispered, “Sleep, ma petite. The night is young. I will be here when you wake.” He was still buried deep within me when I succumbed to the darkness.

I was curled against Jean-Claude when I awoke. He still retained the warm of his evening’s blood donor. Which reminded me. “Why didn’t you feed off Jason tonight?”

Jean-Claude looked at me blankly. I could understand that. It was just like me to ruin the moment. But I couldn’t let it go. “Tonight. You didn’t call for Jason. He thinks you’re angry with him for getting me pregnant.” My hands started combing through his silken curls. It was as though they had a mind of their own. My nap had energized me. I wanted him again. I couldn’t make up for the past month but I could make this a night to remember.

Jean-Claude shook his head. “I am not angry with him. I thought to give him some time to come to terms with all that has happened. If he attempted to resist me, even involuntarily, though I can roll him easily, the experience would not be pleasant.”

“Oh,” I said, rather inanely. Jean-Claude’s hands had been stroking me and I had already lost my concentration.

“I promised you something new tonight, ma petite. Are you still willing?” His voice slid down my body like satin. I fought my impulse to arch into it.

“No blood,” I whispered, though I was already a little nervous. The dreams had been exciting but a little frightening. Not just because of the intensity of the pleasure but because there were things I had never done. Things that, in my sheltered midwestern upbringing, had not been discussed much less experienced.

“Of course not,” he said and rolled me onto my stomach. From the nightstand he took a flask that I hadn’t noticed earlier. He spilled some of the contents into his hands and rubbed them together. I tensed thinking that I knew what he was about to do. “Relax, ma petite,” he said and caressed my shoulders. His hands had warmed the oil and the scent of jasmine wafted around the room. Jean-Claude had wonderful hands and he knew how to use them. I wasn’t so much aroused as I was relaxed.

When he moved to my buttocks and even the cleft between, I was still in that comfortable haze that a good massage induces. But when he touched that last unclaimed entrance every muscle in my body reacted. “Jean-Claude?” My voice came out squeakier than I would have liked.

“I will not hurt you, ma petite. I only seek to prepare you. But if you do not want this…” His voice trailed off. It would be my decision like everything else. I forced myself to relax. He continued down my body, massaging my thighs, my calves, my feet.

“Mmm,” I whispered, not wanting him to stop.

He turned me over and poured more oil into his hands. He continued back up my legs, skirted my center and massaged my belly. I swear I began purring. He was gentle with my breasts, though he couldn’t resist a kiss on each of the tight nubs. I shivered. He played up and down my arms until I thought I might sink into the mattress. Only then did he move between my legs.

He gently parted me until he found what he was looking for. He lowered his mouth. I cried out at the sensation. His tongue, so hot, so fast. And his fingers, they were everywhere. I could feel the liquid evidence of my arousal all down my thighs. I moved them farther apart to give Jean-Claude better access. I arched into his talented mouth. He devoured me. He sucked on my center and my world spiraled out of control in ribbons of colored sensation, the noises coming from my mouth no longer human. I was incoherent with pleasure. When he dipped first one finger, then a second into my still virgin passage, I barely noticed. I felt him stretch me but it didn’t hurt. I felt strangely full. But I couldn’t think past the next orgasm.

I was so drenched in my own wetness that he had easy access to natural lubricant. His fingers moved back and forth within me, stretching me, preparing me to accept something much larger. I was having trouble breathing now, my body no longer my own. I was weightless, boneless, skinless. Nothing but spilling pleasure. And since the marks were open between us, he could feel what I was feeling, enhance it, control it. My hands raked his back, his chest, anywhere I could touch. I drew blood on his body and he arched into the pain. He moved up my body, taking my lips in a near punishing kiss. I could taste myself on his lips and it only aroused me further. His mouth was so distracting that I barely noticed when he moved his erection between the cleft of my buttocks. I felt the blunt head tease the entrance and move away.

He entered me traditionally and I was panting for more, my hips rising to meet his. I understood now how people died of pleasure. He thrust deep once or twice and withdrew. Returning once again to my anal ring. He began moving forward again. This time the pressure shocked me back into some semblance of awareness. My first instinct was to try to escape his body but he had me immobilized. He pushed forward and entered me. It didn’t feel good exactly, but it didn’t hurt either. There was pressure, an unexpected fullness. I didn’t fight it. I should have known Jean-Claude would be as much as expert in this as every other kind of seduction. His other hand moved into better-known territory and caressed me. He knew well that my pain/pleasure receptors were easily confused. The key was to hit that line.

“Relax, ma petite, let it happen,” he urged. My arousal perfumed the air, overpowering the jasmine oil. Jean-Claude was clearly impacted as well. He was still in control but through the marks, I knew he wanted to move faster, to thrust deeper. But he couldn’t, not there, not yet. He rocked forward and backward just enough so that sensation continued to ride my body but not hard enough for fear. He kissed everywhere he could reach, nuzzling at the undersides of my breasts, moving to my neck. I could feel the fangs pressing against the skin.

I knew how much he wanted my blood. I had been so close to giving in and now I couldn’t but as I experienced his desire, I almost said yes anyway. It wasn’t just blood lust. He wanted my blood because he wanted all of me. He wanted to wrap my body around himself like blanket. He wanted to bathe in my essence and know that I was his for eternity. He couldn’t have that last. Not yet. I wasn’t ready to give up the last bit of my humanity. I couldn’t give him my blood now either. I had given him my dreams and now he would have my body. I pushed against his thrust and tried to relax my sphincter muscles. I wrung a low groan from him and it made me want to do it again.

“Again,” I whispered. Instead of obeying me, he flipped us over. It was startled me, and my hands along with the rest of my weight, hit his chest hard. His own hands were clasped around my buttocks, making sure I didn’t impale myself unintentionally. It was odd from this angle. But it gave me more control now that he was partially inside me.

I pushed against his chest and began moving up and down. It took time to find a semblance of a rhythm and he wasn’t totally within me yet. I could not imagine experiencing what he and Asher had done first with Belle Morte and then with Julianna. Surely it wasn’t possible.

Once again, Jean-Claude’s hands were busy teasing my sensitive areas, making me forget what we were actually doing. Each rise and fall of my body drove him deeper into me. Pleasure began to build again, filling me up almost to the point of overflow. His fingers caressed me, wringing more wetness from my swollen flesh and I moved faster. My heart pounded visibly against my chest. He eased a finger inside me, pressing against the barrier that separated the two passages. Sensation shot out, blinding me, flooding me. I cried out and spasmed around him. It was an orgasm like nothing I had ever experienced. The pleasure so deep it bordered on pain, perhaps was pain. I didn’t remember falling into his arms.

When I regained conscious thought, I kissed him. He opened his mouth under mine and I knew he had been fearful of my reaction. I usually ran after something like this. But I couldn’t run anymore. I had nowhere to go or perhaps had nowhere else I wanted to be. He was still whispering French endearments when I drifted to sleep.



Chapter 11

I woke slowly, in stages. My body ached in unusual places. I came to full awareness as memory washed over me. Heat flushed my body and my hands curled into the bed sheets as the visuals flashed through my mind. The thought of repeating last night with Jean-Claude and Asher both drove the breath from my lungs. Aftershocks of pleasure left me gasping.

It took a while before I thought it was safe to get off the bed. My body felt battered. Though I was really a shower person, I knew a bath was the better option. I could barely wait to immerse myself in the heat. It was almost too hot as I lowered myself to my chin. By the time the water had finally cooled, the aches and pains had dissipated and I was ready to face the world. Things were right with my vampires, my wereleopards and the only werewolf who mattered right now. There was no one trying to kill me, and no one that I needed to kill. Life was good.

By the time I got home, changed, and went to the office, I felt invincible. I was even nice to Bert. This actually made him nervous. My day was truly looking up. In fact, the next few days were delightfully carefree. Certainly, the most carefree I had had since Richard, Jean-Claude and I had married the marks and truthfully, a lot longer ago than that. Perhaps since I had gotten involved with the monsters in the first place. I wouldn’t let myself think about that.

Then came Thursday. Thursday was my first appointment with a human obstetrician. I chose this doctor because he was twenty miles outside of St. Louis and there was no way I’d meet anyone I was even vaguely acquainted with. I knew I was being ridiculous. It wasn’t as though everyone wouldn’t eventually find out. But I wanted to put off that day for as long as possible. I wasn’t showing yet but the last thing I needed was the press. They’d have a field day. I could only imagine the headlines. Followed by the lurid speculation on the identity of the father, though I knew Micah would claim that dubious honor.

I wanted coffee so badly I was shaking with need. Micah handed me half a cup of decaf liberally dosed with cream and sugar. It wasn’t the same. Oh, it was coffee. There are good decaf coffees out there. But it didn’t have the pull of caffeine and that’s what I needed.

“It’s too bad Damian’s not awake,” Jason said from the living room. “Maybe we can find a doctor with evening hours and Damian can hold you throughout the appointment.”

“Maybe you can stay home!” I snapped.

Jason gave me his killer grin along with both palms out in surrender. “Anita, if you wind yourself any tighter, the doctor is going to declare you high risk and you’ll be on bed rest for the rest of your pregnancy.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“I read, remember?” he said.

Micah came up behind me. At the touch of his hands on my shoulders, I leaned into him, pressing my back into his chest. His body heat warmed me, though his touch made me tense in other ways.

“Come on, we’re going to be late,” he said.

I put the Browning in its Uncle Mike’s Sidekick holster, tightened the knife sheath on my left arm, grabbed my coat and headed out to the car. Jason drove. Micah and I sat in back and cuddled. Micah took the middle seat so that we could touch despite the seat belts. I hated being this nervous. But it wasn’t just nerves. It was embarrassment and fear, not of the doctor but of the future. I still didn’t know how I was going to raise a child, never mind a daughter. I wasn’t giving myself good odds of making it to thirty. Who was going to raise my child? Jean-Claude? Nathaniel?

The doctor’s office was pleasant enough, I guess. Warm colors, good lighting. I gave my name to the receptionist and prepared for her reaction. There wasn’t one, which left me a little nonplussed. I was so used to being recognized. She handed me a clipboard with enough new patient paperwork to keep me occupied and focused while I sat. I didn’t know the answers to half the questions. I don’t get sick. Even before the marks I didn’t get sick. Injured, yeah, but not sick. I hated doctors.

When the doctor’s assistant called my name, the three of us stood up. She looked at Micah and Jason oddly. “We just need Mrs. Blake,” she said losing lots of points by making assumptions.

“Why?” I asked, suspicious of what they would do to me in that back room.

“Just so we can do the examination. We’ll call in your husband when we get ready to do the ultrasound,” she said, clearly trying to be placating but succeeding only in pissing me off.

Micah grabbed my hand. “It’s up to you, Anita,” he said. I felt myself relax. His touch wasn’t like Damian’s but the comfort was obvious. I realized I was overreacting and sighed.

“Lead the way,” I told the woman. She took me into a typical examining room, handed me a blue examining gown that had the texture and thickness of a cheap paper towel, and left me to undress. I felt awkward in the blue tissue paper. I knew it was deliberate. Another way for the doctor to assert his superiority. I paced for what seemed like forever before there was a cursory knock on the door.

The man who came through was of medium height, blond and clean-shaven. If I hadn’t had so many preternatural studs at my disposal, I might have found him handsome. “Hello, Mrs. Blake, I’m Dr. Stewart,” he said, holding out his hand.

I took it and said, “It’s Ms. actually, but call me Anita.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Anita. What brings you here?” he asked.

I thought it was a colossally stupid question and desperately wanted to finger my knife but it was buried underneath my clothes. “I’m pregnant,” I said, trying not to be testy.

He didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. “How do you know?”

“I had it confirmed by a doctor who isn’t an obstetrician.”

He nodded. “Do you know how far along you are?”

Hell, I could give him the date of conception. I did so.

“You’re that sure?” he asked.

“Positive.” I said flatly. I thought he would let it go, but he didn’t.

“If you knew you were pregnant, why did you wait so long before seeing an obstetrician?” he asked. “You’re really at the point where, if there is a problem, an abortion isn’t necessarily a safe alternative.”

How could I tell him that I was hoping it would all go away? It sounded idiotic even to me and I was the one saying it. I shrugged. “I think I didn’t believe it.” There was a certain amount of truth in that.

He gave me an odd look, as though he hadn’t expected me to be the delusional type. But he moved along. “Okay, let’s do the preliminaries, height, weight, blood pressure. Then we’ll make sure everything feels right. After that, we’ll take some blood and do an ultrasound. Do you want to know the baby’s sex?” he asked. He gestured me to the scale.

“It’s a girl,” I said before I stopped to think. I actually felt his eyebrow rise with skepticism.

“You know this because…,” his voice trailed off.

I sighed again, inwardly. I didn’t want to get into it. Eventually I’d have to reveal my “special circumstances” but not yet. If he didn’t recognize me, I didn’t want to bring my celebrity to his attention. I shrugged again. “Gut feeling,” I lied.

He called in his assistant while I hopped up on the table and prepared to be humiliated. He was quick and gentle and it was over before I had a chance to get too upset. The assistant handed me a bottle of water from a mini-fridge and told me to drink up. The doctor would be back in twenty minutes. I asked if my friends could join me. She looked surprised but agreed.

I was slugging back the water when Micah and Jason came in. Micah opened his arms and I went into them. We stood there for a few moments until Jason said, “You two really know how to make a guy feel left out.” But there was a smile in his voice. Since I still had three more cups of water to get through, I didn’t mind. I drank another eight ounces before speaking.

“They don’t seem to know anything about me. Let’s keep it that way.” I was really addressing Jason, but Micah pulled out his sunglasses. “No,” I said. “I don’t want anyone hiding either.”

There was a knock on the door and a woman walked in with a clipboard. “Hi, Anita. We just need to draw some blood. Would you follow me?” It wasn’t a question.

I followed her, holding the extra-large paper towel closed in the back, and sat in the chair. I hate having blood drawn. I hate needles. I closed my eyes through the whole thing. “There,” she said, “That wasn’t so bad.” Right. She wasn’t sticking her own arm with a needle. I let it go. I’ve let a lot of things go, like Jason’s first comment to me when I came back in the room. Could he lick the pinprick? Micah pulled me against him so Jason only got a nasty glare. “Keep it up wolfboy and you’ll never have unsupervised visits with Nathaniel again.” I threatened. He only chuckled.

I finished gulping the water and began the waiting. It didn’t take long to start feeling uncomfortable. Twenty minutes came and went and I began squirming. On Micah’s lap. I though Jason was going to hurt himself, he was laughing so hard. At Micah’s condition rather than at mine, which was about all that saved him from serious injury.

Hospital gown or not, I was about to go in search of the doctor when he knocked and entered. I introduced him to Micah and Jason without explaining our relationship. He led us all the down the hall to the ultrasound room. He had me change into a short gown and handed me a paper blanket to cover my lower body.

Micah took one of my hands as I lay back on the table. The doctor lifted my shirt and squirted liquid gel from a tube. I closed my eyes against the ick factor. Jason was standing behind Micah, his face more serious than I usually see it, though he hadn’t been himself these last few days. The doctor started to explain what we were going to see and then flicked on the monitor. He moved the ultrasound wand over me and we watched the screen. A big smile crossed his face.

“That’s the head,” he said, pointing to a bright spot on the screen. Once he told me what I was looking at, it was easier to see. His pronouncement, “It’s too early to definitely declare sex but there is no indication that you are having a boy,” was greeted by silly grins from the three of us. He pointed out the arms and legs, the spine, the beating heart. It was weird seeing this life inside me, particularly since she was moving.

I suddenly realized that Jason had stopped breathing. I turned to look at him and saw two tears running down his cheeks. “She’s part of me,” he said in a voice too low for the doctor to hear, mostly because he wasn’t paying attention to the audience.

“You are going to need to gain some weight. According to the information you provided, you are barely past your normal weight. You should gain twenty-five to thirty pounds over the next six months. Eating healthy and staying fit is the key to an uneventful pregnancy,” he told me.

“Twenty-five pounds?” I said. “Nothing will fit me!” It was stupid, I know, but reality kept slapping me in the face.

Micah whispered in me ear, “You’ll be the first woman on the block with leather maternity clothes.” I blushed as a visual hit me. Jean-Claude would have a field day with my wardrobe. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Dr. Stewart wiped my stomach with a towel and pulled down the top. “Right now, everything looks normal. I’d like to see you every month. Eventually, it will be closer to once a week. While you do have plenty of time, you should register for childbirth classes. If you have any questions, if you start to spot or if anything changes, please call. There is someone available twenty-four hours a day. It was a pleasure meeting you all.”

I sat up and Micah immediately pulled me against him. “This is really happening,” I said, my voice small and lost. He hugged me tighter.



Chapter 12

With all that had happened, I had forgotten that Christmas was not only fast approaching, only a week away, but that I hadn’t finished shopping. In a sudden burst of holiday cheer, or perhaps panic, I asked Micah to drop me off at a mall and instructed him and Jason to go get a Christmas tree. I’d get a ride home eventually from someone.

I hadn’t loved Christmas in years, not since I was a young child. I remember being wrapped up in the season and asking Santa for presents and sitting on Santa’s lap. But after my mother died, it was a cheerless holiday. Judith tried, of course. And for Josh’s sake, I pretended. But for years it had been just another chore. I thought that this year might be different.

The mall was jammed but it was my own fault for waiting until this late. I had the gift certificates and mail order stuff back at the house but I wanted something special for Jean-Claude and Asher and Micah and Jason and Damian and the list was beginning to get way too long.

Jason turned out to be easy. I was going to get him clothes, but he didn’t need clothes from me. He was Jean-Claude’s personal Ken doll. But he did love to eat. For a change, I had my cell phone with me so I ordered a bunch of restaurant certificates, from fast food to fine dining. I also bought him some books. Jason lived his public persona so well that I often forgot that behind the mask was a very articulate, thoughtful man. I also picked up some books for Asher. Just some modern history texts and contemporary biographies. Asher was too long in the dark. He needed to find out about the world in the last two hundred years. Then there was the set of award winning children’s books. They were bound in multi-colored faux leather and I couldn’t resist. Micah, Nathaniel and I had finished Treasure Island and had moved on to A Wrinkle in Time. These additions would keep us busy for months.

I had gotten Jean-Claude a cameo the first year that we dated and didn’t want to be repetitious but I still kept coming back to jewelry. I could hardly buy him clothes. He’d laugh. The jewelry stores in the mall were too contemporary, though I did pick up small gifts for the women in my pard and Sylvie. The Christmas spirit was definitely getting to me.

I called home and Nathaniel not only answered, but also had a car at his disposal. He picked me up and drove me to a shopping area known for its eclectic nature. My first stop was the rare bookstore. They had some illuminated manuscripts that I thought Asher would enjoy. The jewelry store made me feel as though I had stepped back in time. It was perfect. I had seen Jean-Claude wear sapphires that almost did justice to his midnight blue eyes. I didn’t try to compete with that. He already had a ruby pendant. The emerald pendant I found was an old one, the color still as vibrant as it had been the day it had been cut. The ornate setting would draw the eye to his chest no matter what he wore. It would make a definite statement. The price also made a statement but I got it anyway. It would look stunning against his white frilled shirts.

They had a silver cuff bracelet, thick and masculine, that I wanted to get for Micah before I remembered that the silver would burn him. I rolled my eyes in disgust. I fondled it once more and handed it back to the shop’s owner. “I forgot,” I said, “My friend is allergic to silver.”

“Oh, it’s not silver, madam. It’s platinum,” he said. That explained the price. Before I could think about it, I bought it. I tried not to think of the rising costs. I wasn’t even done. I wanted to get something special for Nathaniel. My pomme de sang had never once said no to me. He would lay down his life for me and consider it well spent. I didn’t understand that, not even when I looked into his heart. But I wanted to reward him.

I found what I wanted in an antique shop. I don’t like antique shops as a rule; they make me feel awkward and clumsy. But this place felt comfortable. Perhaps it was the weapons lining the wall like sentries. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but I knew it when I saw it. A brass slave cuff. It was thick and hammered and polished to a gleaming yellow. It was definitely a mark of ownership and would fit snugly around his bicep. I could see him wearing it on stage at Guilty Pleasures. I could see him wearing nothing else. The ardeur flared within me and I closed down that line of thought.

I was walking toward the cashier when I saw the ship. It was a replica of a Viking war ship. It was hand carved wood so I knew that Damian would appreciate the craftsmanship. I thought about Damian the warrior. Perhaps because he wasn’t a master vampire, I discounted his warrior’s skills. But seeing the longboat, I could picture him on board, arms steady at the oars. Once again the ardeur rose. I blanked my thoughts and added the boat to my purchases.

I was almost done. In fact, I was done, particularly since I was having trouble managing the packages. I hadn’t kept track of Nathaniel. He’d be there when I needed him. Sure enough, he was waiting outside the store. He deftly relieved me of my burdens and began walking back to the car. I moved to follow but there was a Christmas shop at the end of the block and the smell of balsam fir drew me in. The trees were lovely. Each one had a theme. They reminded me of the trees we had when I was a little girl. I fondled the ornaments with bittersweet memories and added a few to the basket I had impulsively picked up. I took my time looking at each tree. When I came to the Noah’s Ark theme, I saw the leopards and the wolves and the rats and the bears and knew that I had found the gift I didn’t know I was looking for. I gathered up a dozen of the leopards, all different, and a handful of every other animal, paid the bill and walked into the crisp December air.

That’s it. I was done with the shopping. I wondered if wrapping was mandatory. I sighed and walked into the card and paper store. By the time I walked out, I never wanted to go shopping again. Once again, Nathaniel was waiting for me outside the door and he emptied my arms, which meant that my gun hand was free again. I relaxed almost immediately.

The drive home was mostly silent but in a happy way. I was exhausted and Nathaniel, well, I think Nathaniel was excited. He was like a boy who taught from an early age not to believe in Santa Claus only to discover that Santa was real. He made me feel like I should believe again.

I knew as soon as I walked in the front door that Micah and Jason had been successful. Pine needles littered the front hallway and left a trail into the living room. There was merriment and popcorn everywhere.

“Anita!” Zane yelled. “You’re home!” He pounced off the couch, a half-strung popcorn streamer in his hands. “Anita’s home!” he announced as though the others hadn’t already figured it out.

I looked at Micah and he smiled at me. “We got a tree,” he said, as if I could have missed the giant pine tree dropping needles on the floor. Nathaniel had brought all the bags into the bedroom and I followed. I wanted to get the ornaments I had bought. It took me a while to sort them all but the expressions on their faces when I handed them the out made it all worthwhile.

Giggles and relaxed hilarity took over as we trimmed the tree with not only my ornaments, but also ornaments that the others had from Christmases past. Even Nathaniel had a couple. One was a Popsicle stick cross, decorated with yarn and glitter. It was dirty and battered and had clearly seen better days but Nathaniel held it reverently and the happy memories shone from his lavender eyes. The other was a faded porcelain snowman, decorated in Christmas colors with the words “Nathaniel’s First Christmas” just barely discernible on the flat white surface.

The tinsel fight left nearly everyone with silver strings attached to some part of their body but we had managed to tinsel the tree as well. The tiny multi-colored lights were plugged in and we all stared at this unexpected piece of home. I had created a home here. I hadn’t looked for it, would have sworn I didn’t want it, but it had happened anyway. Without warning, Jason came over and kissed me soundly. I pulled back and said, “What was that for?” He merely pointed up. When I hadn’t been looking, someone, probably him, had hung mistletoe from the ceiling. Not just a little bunch. There was mistletoe everywhere. Suddenly, every woman in the room was grabbed by the nearest male and kissed. There were lots of screeches and laughter.

Zane brought out the eggnog and suggested that we toast to Christmas Future. The stereo was playing Christmas music, lively and full of holiday cheer. I left them to begin the process of wrapping presents. We took turns. I’d wrap a few and then give Micah the room and so on.

The pile under the tree grew rapidly. I put the gifts for the vampires to the side, since I’d be celebrating with them at the Circus. And yes, it did feel weird to be celebrating Christmas with vampires. But it had become such a secular holiday that, this year anyway, it was the thought that counted. I could see eyes go wide as I kept making trips back and forth. By midnight, the tree was barely visible with all the presents piled under and next to it. We had agreed that I would spend Christmas Eve at the Circus and then take Jason back to the house to celebrate Christmas with the pard. I had even asked Micah to invite Richard and Sylvie, Jamil and Shang-Da, Rafael and Louis and even Ronnie and Catherine and her husband. I didn’t know how many, if any, of these people would come but I wanted the invitations out there.

Micah, Nathaniel and I settled down to sleep. Nathaniel snuggled against my front, his leg entwined with mine. Micah at my back, molding his body to mine. He kissed the nape of my neck, nuzzling the hollow at my neck and shoulder. I shuddered with pleasure. But it wasn’t sex pleasure. It was happiness pleasure. Micah’s hand came around to my belly and rubbed gently. I had almost forgotten. Really. But the sudden realization wasn’t scary. At least not right at that moment. I fell asleep, secure in their warmth.

By Sunday, I had forced Zane and Caleb to thin and relocate the mistletoe forest to more traditional locales. My lips were starting to become bruised from the random kisses and Cherry began actively avoiding the living room. The presents continued to pile up. The excitement on Nathaniel’s face was almost too much to bear. Even Cherry, my favorite cynic, had been seen shaking a few boxes.

Zane had told me that Gabriel wasn’t big on Christmas, beyond the money making proposition of pimping out his pard as Christmas gifts. I tried not to feel sick. Micah agreed that the last few years had been difficult. Running from Chimera had put a damper on celebrations. I knew Jason had celebrated the holiday with Richard’s family who certainly knew how to make merry. But I thought he was looking forward to Christmas day here. I knew I was. I couldn’t wait to see their faces as they opened the gifts. I was not looking forward to my face when I received the credit card bill.

Christmas is a slow season at Animators Inc. Post-Christmas is busy. What do you get the person who has everything? A gift certificate for an ancestor-raising. It is a strange world we live in. Until then, I was handling mostly will disputes. The only interesting raising on my schedule was a history professor writing a new text on Lewis and Clark and wanted to talk to another historian who had brought new facts to light without providing the source. The guy had died a little over a hundred and fifty years ago. It’s amazing what our government grants are being used for these days. The professor was ecstatic.

I spoke to Jean-Claude early in the week. I tried to touch base with him most nights, but it didn’t always happen, particularly when we already had set plans, like we did for Christmas Eve.

Ma petite,” he said, the silken whispers of his voice like ethereal wrappers around my body. “Do not feed if you can avoid it.”

The words made my body grow hot and cold at the same time. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“The night will be a feast, do not come to the banquet table already sated,” he said and I felt the caress all the way to my toes. I had visions of what would happen and my body swayed involuntarily.

“I’ll do my best,” I said. And I would. I had reached a point where the ardeur was steady enough that I could manage it, at least so long as no one else had metaphysical control over me. I could alter my schedule so that by Friday night, I would need Jean-Claude’s touch. More than usual.

As the week wound down to Christmas Eve, I felt good. The prenatal vitamins restored my physical normality. The pard made sure that I ate three nutritious meals a day. I had started to show just a little bit, though only if you knew what you were seeing. Nathaniel had pointed it out one night as we snuggled in bed. We had finished another two chapters of our book and were settling down. Nathaniel had run his hands down the front of my body, not sexually, just getting comfortable. “Anita?” he said, a questioning lilt to his tone.

“What?” I asked, a little sleepy. Micah was in the bathroom and I already missed his warmth. It was sad just how hard I found sleeping alone these days.

“Is this the baby?” he whispered.

I was awake now. I touched where his hand was touching and felt a new roundness there. I wasn’t in the habit of touching myself like that, feeling the contours of my body, but things had definitely changed. My hand fell away as Micah crawled in behind me.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. I simply moved his hand to my belly. His smile was almost visible in the dark. “You’re having a baby, Anita. This is supposed to happen.”

If he laughed, it would be all over. But he didn’t. He simply pulled me against him and nuzzled the hollow of my shoulder. I arched back against him, our beasts touching ever so lightly. I loved sleeping with these men. Their unconditional acceptance was an irresistible lure. Nathaniel snuggled against me and I let the real world fall away.



Chapter 13

Christmas Eve day was cold and crisp and bright. Ice crystals crunched under my feet when I stepped onto the deck. It was going to be a long day. I wasn’t scheduled to go over to the Circus until early evening and it was only ten o’clock in the morning. Too bad there was no one to shoot. Shooting someone would have taken the edge off my nervous energy. I decided to go for a run. I thought about calling Ronnie, I really did. Then realized that I wasn’t ready for that conversation. I couldn’t tell her I was pregnant, not when she still hated Jean-Claude. It wasn’t as though the two things were connected, but the truth was that I was connected to Jean-Claude until death do us part. Hell, my connection to Micah ran almost as permanent. If she pressed me too hard, it would be the end of our friendship. At least with silence I can pretend she’s still my best friend.

It didn’t help that I had followed Jean-Claude’s instructions. I had fed the ardeur. I couldn’t avoid it. But they had not been truly satisfying feedings. I could feel it roiling under the surface, like my beast. I definitely needed a run.

I changed into running clothes and opened the bedroom door. Merle stood right outside, also dressed in running gear. “I thought I would join you,” he said. This should be fun, I thought.

“Why?” I asked.

“You are my Nimir-Ra,” he said.

“It won’t be a satisfying workout for you,” I warned. He was far taller than Ronnie, not to mention all around bigger.

“That isn’t the point.”

I decided not to argue. Maybe I was growing up at last; not everything needed to be an argument or even a question. So we went outside and ran. Merle was a quiet companion. I knew he had begun to respect me, but he was still Micah’s man. I didn’t have a problem with that. I could take care of myself. Actually, Micah could take care of himself as well but Merle was good insurance.

I ran for a good long time. Merle kept pace with me but didn’t try to break my concentration. By the time I got back, it was lunchtime and I was suitably tired. The shower was a good pick me up but I still had too many hours to kill. I grabbed some leftovers including the cut-up vegetables Cherry had left with my name on them. I made fresh decaf. It wasn’t the same but I would take what I could get. Where the hell was everybody? Even Merle had disappeared.

Ordinarily, I’d be at work but Bert decided that it didn’t make sense to keep the office open on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t just that the mood was too festive for zombie raising, it’s just that the animators weren’t required for gift certificate purchases. I expected January to be far busier than the cold would otherwise merit. We were definitely living in interesting times.

I wandered around the living room, looking at the tree, shaking a few of the gifts with my name on it. I felt like a child. For just a few moments, I believed. We had made paper chains last night and they decorated the walls with bright colors. I felt him before I saw him. Micah. He came up behind me and pulled me, gently, into his body before kissing the back of my neck. I shivered.

“We can’t do this,” I reminded him.

“We aren’t doing anything. I just thought you might want company,” he said. His hands stroked my arms. Heat rose and I forced myself to break away.

“Micah, I’m on edge as it is!” I said. He laughed. I punched him. He laughed again.

“Come on, let’s take a nap,” he suggested and pulled me toward the bedroom.

I wasn’t tired. Nervous but not tired. Nevertheless, I slipped on a t-shirt and got under the covers. He wrapped himself around me and began a gentle massage on my neck and shoulders. His hands were firm and sure against my skin and I thought once again about the unreality of this man. He came into my life with no warning and had asked only that I remain his lover and share our pards. He was too good to be true and it scared me. He hadn’t even batted an eye about the baby.

“You’re too tense,” he said.

“Thanks for telling me. I couldn’t have guessed on my own.” Yup, sarcastic and grumbling. Maybe I was feeling okay after all. Micah chuckled.

“I know you aren’t going to get a lot of sleep tonight, but don’t come home too late tomorrow morning. We won’t open presents without you and there are too many of us behaving like excited kids. I don’t want to have to exercise my authority.”

I didn’t say anything because he was right. We were quiet for a while. His hands on my body were comforting rather than arousing. I drifted into the dream-like state of semi-consciousness and finally into unconsciousness.

Micah shook me lightly. I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and looked at the clock. It was late afternoon. The sun was setting, casting shadows in the bedroom. He kissed me lightly and told me that dinner would be ready by the time I got dressed. I hoped that whatever they were making would stay warm while I tried on the contents of my wardrobe. As he walked out of the bedroom he said, “Oh, Jean-Claude sent over something for you to wear tonight. It’s hanging in the closet.”

I didn’t know whether to be excited or nervous. As far as I knew, I was going over to the Circus to celebrate the season and have sizzling monkey sex with the two hottest vampires in St. Louis, if not on Earth. What did one wear for a night of wicked abandonment? I opened the closet with some trepidation and promptly gasped. It was a dress, short and flowy, probably in silk. It was deep emerald green and matched the pendant I bought him. I slipped it on. It was comfy and had enough fabric that I could wear the bellyband easily. The dress was sleeveless, but the straps on my shoulders were wide enough that I could wear a bra. The neckline plunged low but had lots of fabric flounces. It was so unlike Jean-Claude to provide something without leather. It felt good, the silk kissing my skin with every movement of my body

As for dinner. We were having a real Christmas dinner here tomorrow. I didn’t know who was cooking it. I didn’t ask and, since it wasn’t me, I didn’t care. Jean-Claude had requested a special French menu for me tonight. I promised that I would taste whatever he wanted. It was Christmas after all. But tomorrow afternoon would be a meal with all the trimmings. I wasn’t sure who was coming but every monster and the few humans I knew had been invited. I never realized I had so many friends.

I slipped off the dress and took another shower. Jean-Claude had given me some body oils and I hadn’t used them before. So far, I hadn’t been terribly affected by odors. Heavy perfume bothered me but cooking smells hadn’t made me ill and neither had light flowery scents. The oil made my skin glow. When I walked into the dining room, everyone went still. My pard stared at me as though they had never seen me before. And perhaps they hadn’t. Not like this.

“Wow, Anita. You look…,” Zane trailed off, trying to figure out how to describe what he was feeling. I had run hair goop through my hair so my curls were hanging loosely around my face.

“What?” I practically snarled.

“Soft,” Nathaniel said. “You look soft.” The pard nodded in agreement. Even Micah was staring at me with a strange light in his eyes.

Soft was definitely not normal for me. Part of me wanted to bolt back to the bedroom and change. Another part of me, one I don’t listen to very often, liked looking pretty. Pretty in the traditional way, not the Barbie does Bondage image that has become Jean-Claude’s personal trademark.

I wasn’t really hungry, particularly knowing that I would be eating later, but Cherry was firm when she insisted that I eat something anyway. Someone had sautéed chicken with vegetables and pasta. It was good and I managed a few bites. Most everyone was going to hang out with Stephen and Vivian tonight since Guilty Pleasures was closed. That sounded safe to me. The last thing I wanted was to get a call because one of the pard was in trouble. I was being a little unfair. No one had gotten in trouble since the incident at Narcissus in Chains. Nathaniel belonged to me now and everyone followed Micah gladly.

The doorbell rang, which startled me. I wasn’t expecting anyone. Zane answered it and brought Jason into the room. “What are you doing here?” I asked. It came out a little harsher than I’d intended.

“Jean-Claude thought it made more sense if I played chauffer because I am spending Christmas with you tomorrow. I’m not working tonight, so it isn’t as though I had other plans.” He looked me up and down. “Wow, Anita, you look, wow,” he said.

“Thanks, I think,” I said, shaking my head. It did make sense for him to do the driving. I had a feeling I’d be pretty shaky in the morning and I couldn’t sleep the day away. “Since you are spending Christmas with us, I’m keeping your presents here. But I could use your help with the others.”

“Okay, this Christmas season is getting way too weird. No arguments?” He turned to Micah, “Did she bitch about the dress?” Micah shook his head, a small smile playing about his lips.

“Enough, already! Just come help me,” I snapped. It took a few trips out to the car to get everything loaded. Some of the gifts were heavy and others merely fragile. I kissed Micah goodbye, touched all the pard members still at the house and got into the car.

Jason and I had a surprisingly companionable ride to the Circus. He told me again how good I looked, and he didn’t leer while doing so. I felt oddly sad that I was the cause of his sudden adulthood. “This is such a different look for you, Anita. Jean-Claude has amazing taste in clothes.”

I didn’t comment on his own leather and fishnet outfit. The long leather coat he wore on top covered his arms so he didn’t freeze. “I thought you weren’t working tonight,” I said.

“I’m not. But I was practicing routines this afternoon since the club was quiet. I have an image to uphold,” he said, grinning. “Jean-Claude called just as I was wrapping up and asked me to pick you up on my way home. It’s going to be an interesting Christmas this year.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, curious.

“I’ve spent the last two years celebrating with Richard’s family. He asked me this year but I turned him down. Until he knows about your, um, condition, and my part in it, I didn’t think it was safe to be around him and his family. Your name would come up. It always does. I know me and I know I’d say something. His mother wouldn’t understand why Richard killed me,” he finished with a grin.

“Good call,” I said, meaning it. Richard in a temper was more dangerous than even an alpha werewolf should be. I was worried for him and about him, but he didn’t want my help.

“Anyway, thanks for inviting me to share it with you. Nathaniel and Gregory have been gleeful lately. You can see it in Nathaniel’s act. There is more genuine bounce. I’ve never seen him like this before. He’s usually so sad beneath his on-stage image.”

I didn’t have anything to say to that. It was true. Nathaniel had made vast progress from his original persona as pet. But I wasn’t sure if he wanted to rise above his submissive nature. You can’t force someone to conform to your wishes. Not if those wishes are antithetical to their nature.

Jason pulled into the parking lot and took the space closest to the door. “This might require a couple of trips, even with the two of us. Oh, Jean-Claude wanted me to give you this as soon as we arrived. He must have known he was going to call me because he had tucked it in the glove compartment,” he said, handing me a sealed envelope with an ornate letter A on the front.

I opened the heavy vellum and read, ‘Ma petite, I fear we are not quite ready for you. Damian has volunteered to entertain you in the interim. Joyeux noel’. It was signed with a flourish. “Apparently we don’t have to rush. I just need Damian’s gift for now,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll unload the car and bring the gifts to Jean-Claude’s living room. I’ll see you tomorrow. Have a great night!”

Damian’s gift was both heavy and awkward but I made it down the stairs without catching my heels on anything. His door was closed but it opened immediately to my knock. He stared at me for a long moment, almost drinking me with his eyes. He hadn’t fed, which surprised me.

“Why haven’t you fed?” I asked.

“You look lovely tonight, Anita,” he said, ignoring my comment. “Please, come in.” He stood back and let me enter. I put the box down and moved to sit on the bed. He stayed standing. “Would you like something to drink?” He was so polite.

“Damian, what’s going on?” I asked. He wouldn’t turn to face me. “Damn it, Damian. That’s a direct order!”

He whirled around but didn’t try to meet my eyes. “Fine,” he said, “You want a direct response? I don’t think I can keep my hands off you and I know you don’t want that. I didn’t feed yet tonight because I know that at full strength I would try to seduce you. And since I know you haven’t fed, I’d succeed.” He spoke with more passion than I’d expected. I felt a slow flush burn my cheeks.

“I’m sorry, Damian. I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to do this to us.” I didn’t know what to say.

He took a visible yet mental step back. “No, I’m sorry. I know you didn’t do this on purpose. I wanted you before you made me your servant. Being close to you, touching you, brings me both great pleasure and great torment. But I wouldn’t give it up.” He was still avoiding my eyes but I saw some of the tension release from his body.

“Why don’t you open your present?” I said.

This time he did look at me. “You brought me a present?” He sounded stunned.

“It’s Christmas. Of course I brought you a gift. Did you really think I’d forget about you?”

A smile played across his lips briefly. “It has been a long time since anyone has thought of me in any way but as a tool or perhaps a toy.” His voice was flat when he said the last. I could not imagine what life must have like for him before Jean-Claude ransomed him. What little I had heard made me shudder.

I stood up to get the box but he motioned me to sit down. He stared at the cheerful wrapping and colorful bow for several seconds before tearing it open like a little boy. That made me smile. When he finally got through the packing peanuts to pull out the prize his face lost all _expression. He turned the boat around in his hands several times, held it up to look at the underside. He didn’t say anything. Eventually, I had to break the silence.

“If you don’t like it, I’m sure-,”

“No!” he cut me off. “No, I like it very much,” he said, his voice much softer. “It’s just that before She Who Made Me, I had dreamed of owning a boat like this. Of commanding such a vessel. I had almost forgotten.” He raised his head to look at me. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’m glad you like it.”

He laid the carving on his dresser, careful to keep it back from the edge. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out a wrapped box. His eyes met mine again shyly. “I have something for you, too,” he said.

The box was about eight inches long by two inches deep and was heavier than I had expected. The wrapping was a heavy, blood red paper, with gold ribbon. It was almost too pretty to open. I decided to open the gift like a girl and pulled gently at a taped edge. Eventually I pulled off the cover. And gasped. A silver dagger, its handle inlaid with gemstones, gleamed out at me. My head shot up.

“This was yours,” I said. It wasn’t a question.

He nodded. “I thought it would mean more to you than a store bought gift. It’s made for my hand, so it won’t have the balance you’re used to, but I thought you would like it anyway.”

I was stunned. Stunned that he would give me something that clearly meant so much to him. “Thank you,” I said, but it wasn’t enough. “I love it. I can’t believe you would give this to me,” I said, hefting it in my hand. It was heavy but it felt good in my hand. The jewels were real. I wouldn’t, couldn’t use this in the field. I had lost too many knives to take the chance of losing this one. Maybe I’d have it framed for display.

There was a brief knock at the door before it opened and Jean-Claude appeared. “Ma petite, thank you for your patience. All is in readiness.”

I swallowed hard against fear and anticipation and excitement. I went over to Damian and kissed him on the lips. It was soft, the briefest of touches, but he smiled. “Merry Christmas, Damian. You may hunt tonight, if you want.” I lowered my eyes as I said this last. I hated that I was his master, hated that I controlled his very life’s blood. He never hunted except with my permission and I never gave it. There were too many willing donors. But tonight, if he wanted to hunt, I wanted him to have that pleasure. I trusted him to find a suitable victim.

“Good night, Anita,” he said and smiled as he closed the door behind us.

Jean-Claude led the way down the hall giving me a chance to appreciate the view. I was surprised when we went past his room. “Where are we going?” I asked.

“I had a room arranged for the first part of our evening,” he said rather cryptically.

He stopped suddenly and opened a door, motioning me to precede him. I began to but froze just inside the threshold, astounded. It was a Christmas dream. White lights adorned the tree, which was decorated with white snowflakes and gauzy puffs that I assumed were supposed to be clouds. Presents lay scattered underneath. I could see that Jason had added my contributions. A fire roared in the fireplace. The stone walls were no less austere than usual but there were sconces on the walls providing soft light.

The centerpiece of the room was the dining room table. It wasn’t a large one, in fact it probably only seated four. It was set for one. However, there were chairs for two. Jean-Claude had actually asked me for something for Christmas this year. He asked me to eat a meal for him. It wasn’t that we didn’t go out to dinner. He loved to show off the outfits he convinced me to wear. But food was an ongoing source of argument between us. I needed to keep in top condition and if I ate the way he wanted me to, I wouldn’t be able to do that.

But for this night, I gave him total control of the menu. He knew what else was planned, so I didn’t expect him to have me gorge myself. On the other hand, I was a bit apprehensive. Until I started dating him, food was something you ate so wouldn’t die. He’s been educating my palate with extreme reluctance on my part.

“This is beautiful, Jean-Claude.”

“It cannot compare to you, ma petite. That dress is exquisite on you.”

That may or may not have been true. Compared with him, I was definitely the ugly stepsister. He was in black, of course, tight leather pants and a silk shirt that whispered every time he moved. My mouth actually watered at the sight of him.

“Jean-Claude,” I whispered and he was beside me, taking my mouth in a kiss that ignited the ardeur. It was all I could do not to crawl through him with my mouth. He released me with a rush of cold wind that cleared my head.

“Soon, ma petite, soon we will feed all your hungers.” His look was so sensuous that I had to force myself not to throw myself at him. It wasn’t easy. “Please sit so we may begin.”

He didn’t attempt to pull out my chair, which earned him many brownie points. “Where’s Asher?” I scooted closer to the table. A heavy white tablecloth covered the table but my napkin was red with silver edging. The silverware was real silver, judging from its weight. There was a lot of it. Less than at Musette’s banquet but still more than I was comfortable using. There was a glass of chilled water and a Coke. I was impressed that he didn’t bother with a wine glass. On the other hand, I was pregnant, so even if I liked alcohol, it was a no-no. Jean-Claude wheeled a tea-cart closer to the table. It was overflowing with silver-covered serving dishes. I groaned at the thought of all this food.

Ma petite, I assure you, I have held your preferences at the forefront of my planning. All I require is that you taste what is served.” With a small flourish he took the cover off the first tray and laid it before me. I almost laughed. There were four appetizers on the tray, including French Onion soup, but each portion was no larger than a bite, maybe two. The soup was no more than a few ounces worth. I relaxed immediately. Jean-Claude hadn’t been kidding when he said all he expected was a taste. I did my best to savor each morsel, which wasn’t particularly difficult. The food had been prepared by a master chef. Jean-Claude had originally been sitting in the chair next to me, but after only two bites he moved to a leather couch that I hadn’t noticed. He wanted to have room to relish each flavor. He was truly adorable when he did this and I could see why he hadn’t wanted Asher to join us just yet. It had to be cruel to watch a pleasure that you could no longer experience.

The rest of the meal was just as much fun. Four main courses, four sides, four salads, four desserts. Each in miniature. Jean-Claude kissed the whipped cream from my lips. I was replete but not uncomfortable. We were cuddling on the couch, like any normal couple, when there was a knock on the door. Asher didn’t wait for an answer before entering.

As always, seeing Asher made my heart race. He wasn’t dressed for entertaining. At least not outside the bedroom. His silk robe covered mustard-yellow silk pajamas. Slippers adorned his feet. His spun-gold hair hung loose around his shoulders and he made no move to hide himself. I was glad. I rose to greet him. He took my mouth in a searing kiss. “One of us is overdressed,” I said.

“Why don’t you begin by opening this gift and then we can remedy that situation,” he said, handing me a gaily wrapped box. I tried being gentle with the wrapping but gave in and tore it open. Inside was a lacy peignoir set in an emerald green only a few shades lighter than the pendant I had bought for Jean-Claude. It matched my dress as well. I guess green matched as well with gold as it did with black. I would fit well between my lovers tonight.

Jean-Claude pointed me to the bathroom. I wasted no time in changing. It fit me perfectly. Why was I not surprised? There had been no identifying designer tags. Jean-Claude’s tailor had lifelong job security. Both men were waiting for me when I emerged. Jean-Claude had taken the opportunity to don his black furred robe. I definitely felt like I had just been announced as the dessert course. He pulled me into his lap and nuzzled my neck. I arched into his touch. I knew he was controlling my ardeur but he let that control slip momentarily every now and then to remind me of what the night portended.

Gift opening began in earnest. Asher touched the antique books reverently and laughed over my contemporary selections. “Ma cherie, I look forward to providing you with a book report when I am finished.”

Jean-Claude opened the jeweler’s box and blinked slowly before raising his eyes to mine. “It is lovely, ma petite.” There was more being said with his eyes but I couldn’t read the message clearly. But as he stroked the setting to get the full tactile sensations, I knew he really liked it.

We opened smaller gifts, some silly, some sweet. Wrapping paper was everywhere. Asher had given me another robe, for daily use, still emerald green, but unlike the peignoir, it wasn’t transparent. Jean-Claude handed me a smallish box that was surprisingly heavy. The top came off easily. Nestled inside was a Seecamp. The same style I had borrowed from Edward. I glanced up at him in surprise. He shrugged. “Monsieur Death was most helpful.” The Seecamp felt good in my hands. I loved the Browning but this would fit nicely inside dress clothes. There’s nothing like a thoughtful boyfriend.

The next box was clearly jewelry and I hesitated to open it but couldn’t avoid it. The necklace inside was stunning. Diamonds. And platinum. Lots of both. My mouth opened and closed several times. I felt like a fish. I looked at him in confusion. “Jean-Claude, this is far too valuable. What happens if I lose it?”

He laughed. “If you lose it, ma petite, I will replace it. It does not do your beauty justice but every woman, even a contemporary executioner, should have at least one piece of jewelry that makes her feel beautiful.” He motioned that I should hand him the box, which I did. He took the necklace out and placed it around my neck. I lifted my hair out of the way so he could fasten the clasp.

“Stand up, ma petite, let us see,” he said. I did. The diamonds cascaded down my throat and sparkled even to my own eyes. “You will look exquisite in nothing but those diamonds,” he said. I knew he was asking me to wear the necklace to bed. It sounded decadent and it stirred the ardeur. I let it wash over me and relished the hunger, something I rarely did. Asher stared at me with a need he didn’t bother disguising.

I sat back down and Jean-Claude handed me several boxes that seemingly materialized out of nowhere. The first had the shape of a small shirt box. That should have clued me in. Nonetheless, I was stunned to open it and find baby clothes. Exquisitely designed baby clothes. I was afraid to touch them. Tears welled. The next box was bigger and contained toys. Not your off-the-shelf toys, but handcrafted toys. Rag dolls and stuffed animals. Wooden rattles. I couldn’t keep the tears from trickling. Every time I forgot, someone reminded me that I was really having a baby.

Asher reached over and wiped the tears from my cheeks. “There is no need for tears, ma cherie. This is a time for great joy. And great pleasure. Shall we?” he asked and took my hand in his. We rose together and I was almost graceful.

He kissed me lightly, a precursor of things to come. Jean-Claude led the way back to his bedroom. The silk sheets were black, the better to showcase their pale, pale skin, the diamonds at my throat, the gold of Asher’s hair. I didn’t know where to begin. It was different the last time. There was a threat. I would have done anything to keep Asher safe. Who would keep me safe?

Jean-Claude spun me in his arms and kissed me as though he were starving and I was not merely the first food he had seen, but I was his favorite meal. His tongue swept my mouth, tasting me, memorizing me. There were other lips against my neck, my back. I barely noticed when the lacy peignoir was eased from my arms, leaving me in the sheer emerald nightgown. Both men had removed their own robes and hands were roaming everywhere, touches gentle but urgent. Jean-Claude had lifted his control over my ardeur and need poured over my body like molten lava making me sluggish with desire.

I didn’t remember getting on the bed. I didn’t remember getting naked. But suddenly I was, we were, and Asher was between my legs, preparing to thrust deep. “Now,” I pleaded, needing to feel him inside me, finally. Jean-Claude was watching us, his face a mask of lust. Asher pushed inside me and I arched to receive him. I stared into his eyes and tried to put into them just how much I had wanted this. He felt so good inside my body, thick and hard, his thrusts forceful. He found a rhythm easily and had me breathless in no time. He focused on my nipples, sucking and nipping. My back bowed with pleasure verging of pain.

Jean-Claude had moved closer to us, close enough to whisper in my ear, “Feed, ma petite, feed on this bounty, on our desire. Feed.” I was having trouble breathing as Asher pushed me higher. I writhed in his arms. I touched and stroked whatever was close. Asher moved his hand between our bodies and brought me with a simple touch. Jean-Claude echoed my cries through the marks. My eyes opened in surprise; I hadn’t remembered closing them.

If I thought we were done, I was wrong. Asher hadn’t even begun. He flipped us over. “Ride me, ma cherie,” he implored. I did. The orgasm had energized me. I wanted more. More of their sex, their lust, their need. The ardeur would not be gentle this night. Jean-Claude was behind me, kissing me, nibbling on me, tracing the scars with the tip of his tongue. His fangs grazed my neck and I shivered. His hands moved to the place where Asher and I were joined and he drenched his fingers in my wet heat.

He began preparing my rear passage for his use. Feeling his fingers, as well as Asher, inside me caused my heart to skip beats. I leaned down to Asher for a kiss, giving Jean-Claude better access. This was my last gift to both of them, to have again what they once had with Julianna. The multiple sets of hands on my body were making me crazy, the pleasure spasming through my body. He began to enter me, slowly but surely, fighting my own body’s natural reaction and perhaps even my mental one. “Shh, ma petite, we would never hurt you. Relax and be safe in our arms,” he whispered in my mind. But I didn’t have to relax my body, Asher thrust with a forceful grind and orgasm burst over me. I was blind with pleasure and barely noticed as Jean-Claude seated himself to the hilt.

The sense of fullness was almost overwhelming and for a few seconds, thought I might hyperventilate. I had a flash of Jean-Claude’s memories of doing this with Asher and Julianna. Almost exactly in this position. Through those memories I could feel Asher through that thin membrane separating the two passages. The pleasure of that touch had me climaxing again. My heart slammed against my chest and I drank the lust everywhere it touched my body. Jean-Claude wasn’t idle. He, too, was feeding on my pleasure, drinking me down in any way he could.

Every thrust was a matching one and soon the rhythm took over as we all sped toward completion. Asher, who had controlled his release longest, came in a flood of heat that warmed me from within. Jean-Claude, feeling Asher’s release, cried out his own. The scalding jets of his climax triggered mine. I had no breath but still managed a scream as my body exploded with pleasure. I could no longer feel Jean-Claude’s nails digging into my body or Asher’s tongue against my hardened nipples. There was nothing but waves of ecstasy and this was all without Asher’s magic bite, just with their magic bodies.

I collapsed onto Asher’s chest. Jean-Claude pulled out of me slowly, reluctantly. Both he and Asher separated me from Asher’s body. I didn’t have the strength to move or speak. I wasn’t certain I hadn’t burnt out my vocal cords. Asher slipped out of bed but I didn’t have the energy or interest to ask why. My question was answered, however, when I felt a warm, damp cloth between my spread thighs. I whimpered a protest. But Asher merely told me that it would make me feel better. When he was through, I was more comfortable. Jean-Claude tucked me against him and whispered in my mind to rest. I had no choice, my body was full, my heart reeling from the experience. I needed the oblivion of sleep to recover.

When I woke, hours later, I was still pressed against Jean-Claude. I thought about staying in his arms but my body was stiff after such vigorous exercise and I needed to move. “Are you all right, ma petite?”

It took me two tries to get my voice to croak, “I think so.” He held a glass of water to my lips and I gulped gratefully. “Where’s Asher?” I asked, or tried. My voice was raspy and barely audible.

“Running a bath. We let you sleep, but a bath will help ease the soreness.”

I blushed and dropped my eyes. A flash of memory, of Asher and Julianna and Jean-Claude and another bath. My breathing stuttered. Jean-Claude didn’t wait for my protests. He scooped me into his arms and strode into the bath. I would have argued that I could walk, but I wasn’t truly certain that my legs would hold me. My head lolled against his chest.

Asher was waiting in the bath and Jean-Claude passed me into his waiting arms. The water was just this side of hot and the heat was just what I needed. I let it soak into me, awake now, enjoying the quiet. Neither man said anything. I kept seeing something flicker out of the corner of my eye but it took me a while to realize it was the sparkles of my diamond necklace against the candlelight and mirrors. I laughed softly. Jean-Claude and Asher both kissed me lightly.

“Thank you, ma petite, for trusting us. For giving yourself to us,” Jean-Claude said. He was lathering up his hands with something fragrant. He took my arm and began washing it.

“Thank you, ma cherie, for giving me something I thought I had lost centuries before. I haven't made love to a woman, not fully, in hundreds of years. Not of my own volition and certainly not of hers.” Asher’s eyes closed in welcome memory of what we had shared.

Jean-Claude cherished my body, making sure to minister to all the sore areas. He and Asher both kneaded muscles, mine and each other’s. They were comfortable with one another again. The final barriers were down. Technically it was Christmas Day. Maybe it would be a good holiday after all.



Chapter 14

The rest of night passed in a pleasurable daze. I slept in Asher’s arms for a few hours, tucked against the remaining warmth of his naked body. A few hours before dawn he turned me into Jean-Claude’s waiting arms, dropped a soft kiss against my lips and wished me a Merry Christmas. Jean-Claude and I cuddled close, whispering softly to one another when I wasn’t drifting into sleep. About an hour before dawn Jean-Claude’s touches were designed to arouse. I wasn’t certain that my body was up to more and said so.

“Have no fear, ma petite, you need not do anything except feel.” I shivered at his words, which in themselves were a caress. He moved slowly down my body with sensual, drugging kisses that had me arching toward his mouth. His hands were exceptionally gentle as they pulled at my nipples and kneaded my breasts. My breathing quickened, almost against my will. Moans, mine, filled the room. He spread my legs and licked his way between them. He was careful to bring me only so close, prolonging the pleasure. The keening cries were also mine but it wasn’t until he saw my hands fisted into the sheets, that he took pity on me. His talented mouth shattered all my senses. I barely heard his whispered, “Rest well.”

I was alone when Jason bounced in. “Come on, Anita, time to wake up!”

I groaned and opened one eye. Every part of me was stiff. The smell of sex was in the air and I knew Jason knew what I had been doing. I blushed. “Go away, Jason,” I said. I didn’t recognize my own voice. I tried to roll over. I was not successful. Every muscle complained. Jason had the gall to laugh.

“Anita, it’s after nine. By the time you shower and dress and we get to the house, it will be close to eleven. I don’t want to wait that long!”

I stared at the ceiling. “Help me up,” I said, hating myself for the weakness. He was gentle as he supported my back. I wrapped the sheet around me, swung my legs out of bed and stood, holding up a hand to prevent him from helping. I was just stiff. I could stand under my own two feet. “Can I use the shower in your room?” I asked.

“It’s all yours.”

Once I was out of bed, it didn’t take me long to get ready. Moving dispelled the lingering stiffness. I still ached in odd places, but I could live with that. I fell asleep on the ride to the house so I was glad Jason was driving. Not that I had any intention of telling him that.

Jason carried most of my gifts from yesterday. I wore the diamond necklace hidden under my sweater. I was afraid to put it back in the box before getting it inside. The mood in the house was raucous. Everyone was dressed in something, and I could tell for whom Christmas came early. Cherry was wearing a Santa-colored camisole and tap pants, while Zane had on Santa bottoms. There was already wrapping paper on the ground and I couldn’t help but smile. Shouts of glee heralded my arrival. Micah was the first to reach me. He laid a quick kiss on my lips and whispered, “I take it you survived the night?” I blushed which only made me want to hit him.

“Presents, let open presents!”, “When are we going to eat? I’m starved!”, “Ma, she’s pushing me!” Everyone cracked up at the last. Micah pulled me onto his lap and we all gathered around the tree. Cherry and Nathaniel were closest to the gifts and they began calling out names.

Cherry got a lot of clothes, which surprised me considering how little she wore them. Jason loved the restaurant certificates. There were gag gifts and lots of toys. Videogames and DVDs and CDs. I watched Nathaniel’s face as he opened the arm band. He glowed with pleasure. He met my eyes and shyly dropped his. He crawled over to me and nuzzled my hand.

“Thank you, Anita, I love this,” he said.

I stroked his hair and hugged him to me. He smelled of vanilla and fur and the scent had come to mean home to me. He rested his head in my lap but he was also fondling a Super Mario cartridge and I could tell his mind was already focused on the game. Micah was opening the box with the bracelet. My breath caught as he picked it up and placed it on his wrist. He reached for my free hand and squeezed.

A tower of boxes was passed to me, gaily wrapped, with ribbons and little toys. After last night, I knew what to expect. Baby clothes and baby toys. Beautiful leopard and wolf stuffed animals. I kept the tears at bay this time, largely because I was so overwhelmed. What was I going to do with all this stuff? The clothing was so tiny! How was I going to handle an infant?

Thankfully, a pile of presents was handed to Jason and he got to laugh over the book selections, the hair extensions and fishnet underwear. I didn’t even want to know who provided the latter.

Someone passed a small box to me, clearly a ring box. I held it without making any move to open it. I knew it was from Micah.

“Hey,” I called, “Didn’t someone promise food?” I wanted a distraction. Cherry, Zane and Caleb all got up and moved to the kitchen.

“Relax, Anita, it won’t bite,” he said. I knew I was being silly. We hadn’t talked about forever. In fact, I had gone out my way to tell him I wasn’t picking out china any time soon. So why did this little box scare me so? Because the last time I opened a box like this there wasn’t a ring, only a promise, one that I thought now would forever go unfulfilled. I wasn’t ready to face that again.

I opened the paper with a delicacy I hadn’t used on any of the other gifts I had received. I flipped open the top. Nestled inside was a gold ring with three little charms attached. A cross, a leopard and a gun. I had to smile. I slipped it on my finger. It fit. I’d have to remove it before I went to the Circus because of the cross, but it felt good on my finger. Which surprised me. I didn’t understand what was happening to me except that I was discovering a need for home. The technical term may have been nesting instinct, but anyone saying that in front of me would have gotten themselves shot.

Though there were still more presents, it seemed a good time for food. I didn’t know where it all came from, but appetizers were being passed around and Caleb placed a ham in the center of the table. The doorbell rang and for once I didn’t jump to open it with gun in hand. I let Merle do it.

Bobby Lee and Claudia came bearing food and gifts; Louis Fane was right behind, as was Doctor Lillian. Ronnie wasn’t with them and a pang of sorrow hit me. But there wasn’t time to dwell on it. Jamil and Sylvie and Gwen had come in and the laughter washed away the sadness.

The whole afternoon was like that. People coming in and out. No humans. I wasn’t surprised. I was too close to the monsters for most of my human friends to be comfortable. Larry was with Tammy and Catherine was with her husband’s family. Ronnie, well apparently Ronnie was waiting for Louis at home. I missed Ronnie, a lot. But even though she was dating a wererat, she wasn’t ready to accept my life. I suppose, only a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to accept it either.

Richard hadn’t come, of course, but he would be at home with his family and Shang Da. It was possible that he went alone, though Shang Da would have fought him on that, as a good Hati should. I had mailed his gifts. I didn’t want him to feel obligated to come here. I was heading for some of the food when the phone rang. Since I was closest, I picked it up.

“Hello?” I said.


“It’s me, Richard, Merry Christmas.” An overture, at last. I knew we weren’t good for each other in a romantic sense and maybe it was naïve of me to believe that we could be friends, but I missed him.

“Anita, I need you to come to the Lupanar tonight.” That was it. No greeting, not even in polite response to my own.

“It’s Christmas!” I said.

“And I have a problem. I need my Bolverk. Besides, Anita, you might get to kill someone tonight or at least cause pain. Moreover I’m calling this meeting for midnight, technically the day after Christmas.” He sounded so cold, so unlike the Richard I had fallen in love with. I didn’t like this new, unfeeling Richard. I had wanted him to develop practicality not intractability. But Richard hadn’t learned that fine line yet. I wasn’t sure he planned to. I tried not to rise to the bait that I would kill on command. I wasn’t a blind assassin, I wasn’t even Death. I was the Executioner.

“Fine. I’ll be there at midnight. Is there anything else? My friends and I are celebrating the day.” I could be hard and intractable too.

“I’ll see you then.” He hung up the phone without waiting for me to say good-bye. I was definitely a bad influence on other people’s telephone manners. No one ever wanted to say good-bye to me.

Micah cocked his head at me. “Is everything all right?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Richard asked me to be at the Lupanar at midnight. Not me, Anita, but me Bolverk.” I felt like Tarzan introducing himself to Jane.

“Do you want to go?” he asked.

“I don’t really have a choice. I’m Bolverk. I have to go.” I sighed. What kind of problem could Richard be having on Christmas? Jamil was still here and I went over to him and said in a low voice, “Any idea why Richard wants me at the Lupanar tonight?”

Jamil gave me a wide-eyed look. “He called it for tonight? Crap.”

“That’s it? Just crap?”

“Sorry, Anita, I can’t talk about it,” he said with a shrug that bounced his cornrows.

“I have to be there!” I said, disgusted with shapeshifter politics. Meanwhile Jamil pulled out his cellphone, listened and called Sylvie over who, in turn, called over Jason. Great. Just great.

By the time the last guest left, it was naptime. I left Nathaniel, Zane, Caleb and Gregory playing one of the many video games they received. I doubted they would notice if the house fell down around them. Typically, and much to my disgust, the women were handling the clean-up, though I noticed they had drafted Merle and Noah so it wasn’t all bad. Micah followed me into the bedroom.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I have to be,” I said, stripping off my jeans and sweater and replacing them with one of the new nightshirts I had received. This one had a group of penguins playing the child’s game of duck, duck, goose. It was cute and soft. I unhooked the necklace and laid it almost reverently back in the velvet lined box.

“Nice necklace,” Micah commented in a tone I didn’t really recognize.

I felt kind of funny about it. I mean, it should really have been in a safe. What did I need with a diamond necklace? But I had to admit that Jean-Claude was right. Wearing that necklace made me feel beautiful. But I was barely the diamonds type when I was in Jean-Claude’s arms, much less when I wasn’t.

“Thanks,” I said finally, not really looking at him.

Micah laughed, a gentle sound that had me turning to face him. He was lounging on the bed, wearing only silk boxers. “You don’t have to be embarrassed, Anita. I’m not in the same league as a centuries-old master vampire. I can’t compete with him, so I don’t.”

Micah was probably the most self-possessed man I had ever met. He meant it when he said he wasn’t competing with Jean-Claude. I didn’t understand how he could be so accepting of me especially since the reverse would hardly be true. But at this moment, I was grateful he was the man that he was.

I crawled onto the bed. Micah didn’t reach out to me, just waited for me to come to him. He knew me well. I rested my head on his chest and hooked my leg over his. “I think I need a vacation,” I said.

Wisely, Micah didn’t comment. My last vacation, such as it was, almost got me killed, though that was before Micah’s arrival. He just held me until I drifted off to sleep. I slept for nearly three hours and woke, on my own, refreshed. Micah was also awake and I got the impression that he hadn’t slept.

I changed back into jeans and a polo shirt, added a sweater on top and almost every weapon I owned. I wasn’t expecting to need my weapons. Richard tended to use me as a threat, though I wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever was necessary to keep the pack safe. I was surprised that I hadn’t gotten wind of an issue. Jason and Richard were friends. If something major were brewing, Jason would have mentioned it. Paris was still a pest but I couldn’t kill someone for that.

The kitchen overflowed with leftovers. I didn’t remember seeing the turkey, but it took up most of one shelf in the fridge. I nibbled on that while I heated up mashed potatoes and a broccoli casserole. There was a note on the table from Jason. He had gone home to change but if I wanted him to pick me up, I should call. It was a nice gesture but I wanted my own car. I also thought that Richard might think it was strange if Jason and I were suddenly all cozy. He made pissy accusations about that once already.

By the time I got on the road it was after eleven. There were almost no other cars on the road. Most good little grown-ups were tucked into their beds dreaming of post-Christmas Visa bills. Foolishly I had imagined getting into bed with Micah and Nathaniel and reading aloud another few chapters of our book Clouds had moved in, obscuring the half moon. It felt like snow. The air had the prickly feeling that cried storm. Hopefully, Richard would keep one eye on the weather.

I made my way to the Lupanar. The ground crunched under my feet. The smell of blood was in the air. I didn’t have the nose to know whether it was human or animal. The pack was in human form and most of them were huddled inside the coats, trying to keep out of the wind that had kicked up. My own coat provided some protection but I wanted to get this over with and go home. Even I had the sense to know that being out in this cold wasn’t healthy.

Richard watched me approach. “Good, we can get started.” He motioned me to the end of the semi-circle that included himself and Sylvie surrounded by Jamil and Shang Da. I could see Jason in the front, watching the proceedings. “We are here tonight to judge the extent of the betrayal of one of our members and to exact punishment accordingly.”

Jamil and Shang Da stepped out of line and dragged a tall, burly man into the center of the semi-circle, directly facing Richard. The guy was struggling but stopped as soon as he became the center of attention. He shook off his guards. He wasn’t wearing a coat and had the build of a linebacker. I would have guessed were-bear, not werewolf.

“Your betrayal is, unfortunately, not in question, Jack.” His voice carried in the clearing, despite the wind. “You outed several alphas deliberately, lukoi who were doing their best to maintain their lives, to pass as human You had no motive for this except for revenge against those who made you lukoi. But these men and women weren’t those that attacked you. It is difficult enough to make our way in the world, keeping our difference private. You made it impossible. Like you, the ones you outed were the victims of attacks. But this was worse. This was an attack from within. A betrayal from one who should do anything to protect them. We are here to pass and witness judgment.”

Richard sounded like Ulfric. It made me proud. This was the man I had fallen in love with, the man strong enough to punish those who hurt others. He motioned to me to step forward, which I did. I took three steps into the circle. Richard turned back to his prisoner. “We will pass judgment. She will carry out that judgment.”

Jack raised himself up to his full height. He looked at me with disdain that I could see even by the flickering gas lanterns strategically placed around the throne rock. “I do not acknowledge her right to be here, much less mete out punishment. She is not lukoi. She is not even a shapeshifter!”

This was an old argument, one that only served to annoy Richard. “I am Ulfric. I say that she is Bolverk and my word is law!” The trees shook with the force of his voice. As if the heavens heard him, it began to snow or maybe it was hail. Either way, it made a definite statement.

All eyes were on Richard, even mine. Jack charged me and I never even saw him move. He slammed into my stomach with the force of a battering ram. I smacked hard against the frozen ground. My head hit with a cracking sound that reverberated through my body. He knocked the wind from my body so I couldn’t breathe. From deep inside there was a little snapping noise. A sharp pain wracked my mid-section but I couldn’t focus on it. The need to breathe was paramount.

It was over in fewer seconds than it took to recount. I saw Jason’s face, a mask of anguish and also guilt, which I didn’t understand. He made a move to come to me but stopped and clenched his fists tight. Jamil and Shang Da had Jack on the ground. Richard and Sylvie were at my side. “Anita, can you hear me?” Richard said. When I didn’t answer, he opened the marks between us and felt my fear. “It’s okay, Anita, you can breathe,” he said, and turned his head and yelled for a doctor.

The adrenaline rush faded almost immediately and I ached everywhere. My head had a huge goose egg. I probably had a concussion but I wasn’t seeing double. No ribs were broken. In fact, no bones were broken. The day was ending on a positive note. Richard made to help me to stand but I waved him off. I had to do it myself or I’d appear weak. It took a few minutes, but I did it. Relief flickered over Jason’s face.

Richard was furious. The guy had just earned himself a death sentence, one of Richard’s least favorite judgments to hand down. Most of the time I was present purely as a threat. This time I was there to kill. I think Sylvie would have been glad to do the job but the insult was made to me. Since I wanted to go home, I simply pulled out my gun and shot him. I didn’t watch to see what they did with the body. I made it look easy but it wasn’t. I had just murdered someone. He may have deserved it, but if Dolph found out what I was doing, there isn’t a jury in the world that wouldn’t issue an execution order with my name on it.

I wasn’t feeling so great now that the adrenaline rush had faded. My jeans were torn and my head was throbbing and I just wanted to leave. Of course, it wasn’t going to be that easy. Most of the pack had dispersed. They also wanted to get home and forget that they were part animal. Or perhaps they wanted to remember how good the fresh blood tasted. Either way, it was a small group of us who remained behind.

“Are you okay, Anita, do you want me to give you a ride home?” Jason asked.

“I’m fine. It was my own fault. I should have been paying attention. I have my own car here anyway,” I said.

He nodded but I could tell he wasn’t happy about leaving me. The snow was coming down harder now and it felt as though the temperature had dropped. I was having trouble taking a deep breath but I felt that was still reaction. Richard walked over as Jason turned to go. “I’m sorry about tonight. If I had thought he was really dangerous, I would have had him restrained.”

I sighed. “You’re always sorry, Richard,” I thought but didn’t say. What good would it have done? “You’d better get home. I know you’re on vacation this week so you probably have family things lined up,” I said.

“Thanks for the presents. I really liked them,” he said.

“I’m glad,” I said and I was. I had had happy thoughts when I bought them.

“Are you sure you’re okay to get home?”

I shrugged. “Yeah. I’ll be fine.” I turned around and started to make my way back to my car. The ground had already iced up and I slipped once, but caught myself before I ended in a total sprawl. Muscled in my midsection protested the sudden move.

Ice and snow had already covered the roadways. I put the Jeep into four-wheel drive and took it easy. There was no rush. I was the only car on the road; at least there were no other headlights. The first cramp rolled through me and I gasped at the unexpected pain. I shifted my position and kept my eyes on the road. The second cramp was harsher, more prolonged, scarier. I started panting, trying to dissipate the pain. The third cramp took away my breath entirely and I nearly took my eyes off the road as everything grew tighter and tighter before releasing. I wanted to pull over but I couldn’t see the road that well. And I wasn’t sure it would matter.

The next cramp was like a lightning strike. It burned through my body, bolts of piercing agony that wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t breath, couldn’t think, couldn’t see. Pain ripped through me again. I don’t remember turning the wheel. I don’t remember flipping over the guardrail. As I crashed down the ravine all I really knew is I had failed. I had failed my unborn daughter and was going to pay with my life. Tears streamed involuntarily from my eyes. I welcomed the darkness.


Title: Consequences

Chapter: 15/18

Author: Sabriel

Contact: sabriel_0405@mindspring.com

Rating: NC-17 for sexual content

Disclaimer: All characters are the intellectual property of the multi-talented Laurell K. Hamilton. The copyright belongs to her. I am borrowing the characters solely for my own enjoyment.

Authors note: From a timeline perspective, this takes place after CS and technically after the short story in the anthology Cravings. However, with only some minor exceptions, the events of the short story are not taken into consideration here. The idea for this story came out of a scene from CS.

Thanks: To Denise. For everything

Chapter 15

The sound of whimpering woke me. It took me a while to realize that I was making those hurting noises. Cold had seeped through my body. A biting wind cut at my skin. Bright light pierced the car, blinding me, forcing me to close my eyes. Since I had been seeing in at least triplicate, that wasn’t a bad thing. My head throbbed which meant I was still alive. It also meant that there was blood rushing to my head. I was hanging against the seatbelt, awkwardly upside down. My arm was trapped against the dashboard. But it was too much effort to move it anyway.

I drifted, semi-conscious, as the puzzle began falling into place. I had been in an accident. As the wind died down, a dripping noise, slow but steady, penetrated the snow-blanketed silence. At first, I thought it was oil from the car or some other auto fluid. Then I connected the smell. Blood. My blood. I was slowly dripping away my life. I blinked my eyes open, hoping to see something helpful but the windshield was a spider web of cracked and iced-over glass. The passenger side window was missing some of its glass but red tinged everything. My vision hadn’t improved since the last time I tried this, which indicated a more serious concussion. But why was everything crimson? A hand came up and rubbed at my eyes. It came away wet. Blood. I wasn’t merely dripping my life away; I had splattered it everywhere.

I wasn’t getting enough oxygen but when I tried to take a deeper breath, pain spiked through my chest. I must have broken something in the crash. I blinked my eyes open yet again but the world was not only fuzzy, it was darker around the edges. I realized then that I was going to die. I had no idea where I was. No one knew I was missing so there weren’t any search efforts underway. I didn’t think I had crashed through the guardrail which meant that no one would see me if they weren’t looking for me. It was daylight so Jean-Claude was still asleep. I had to hang on a while longer yet or the marks would drag him and Richard into the grave with me. Richard! My pulse quickened at the thought. I opened the marks but his were battened down and I didn’t have the mental focus to push at them. I didn’t have the energy to get angry with him either. If I didn’t kill him when I died, he’d wallow in guilt when he learned why I had the accident.

Every time I shifted my body, the dripping increased in speed. I stopped moving. Too much effort, too much pain, too little reward. My new goal was to stay alive long enough for Jean-Claude to wake. I needed to warn him. I could shut down my end of the marks but if he didn’t do the same, I might drag him down whether I wanted to or not. Richard would have to fend for himself. I said a brief prayer of thanks that I hadn’t taken the fourth mark. I thought there was a good chance that Jean-Claude could protect himself from me since I was only three marks deep.

I moaned, unconsciously, and tried to stay awake but I was so tired and the darkness so peaceful. I didn’t know how long I had been out but knew enough to be grateful to have woken. My eyelids were sticky and hurt when I forced them open. It was still bright but I thought it might be late enough for Jean-Claude to have risen. I opened the marks again and got a faint flicker of response. Too faint to matter. I still didn’t have the strength to push against them and if Jean-Claude hadn’t fed, he’d be too weak to notice.

Tears dripped from my eyes. I hurt everywhere. Pain had morphed into radiant agony. The cold was making it harder to breathe than it already had been from the crash damage. The seatbelt alone probably cracked a few ribs. The tears flowed into my hair. Keeping my eyes open was a mixed blessing. I knew that staying awake was good but my vision had degenerated into kaleidoscopic images worse than the windshield. It also made me nauseated. I fought it back. I didn’t want to throw up in this position. The likelihood that I would choke to death was too great. I panted as best I could, hoping it would buy me some time. I had to make it until I could warn Jean-Claude. I just needed to hold on a little longer.

I never imagined dying alone. Oh, I suspected that I wouldn’t make it to thirty, a prophecy that was apparently coming true, but I always imagined dying in the line of duty. An execution gone wrong, or a lycanthrope gone rogue or even a demon. I never imagined a car accident because I am so fanatical about seat belt use. Though it was rather genetically apropos, since a car accident took my mother’s life. Perhaps dying alone was fitting. I kept myself back from all the people in my life. I thought about Ronnie, the woman I once counted as my closet friend. She so hated what my life had become that we couldn’t talk much anymore. I missed her and I was angry that I hadn’t tried harder to show her my friends were not monsters.

I hated how judgmental people were about my life. But my own ambivalence was telling. I used to kill the monsters not sleep with them. Now I was a willing human servant. I had taken the marks to save Richard and Jean-Claude and would do it again, even knowing the consequences, even knowing about the ardeur, my nemesis. As wonderful as it felt to have Asher driving inside me, I wouldn’t be fucking him at all if the ardeur weren’t such a hard taskmaster. I was pregnant because of the ardeur. I slept with a stranger because I desperately needed to feed. If things had been different, if I hadn’t been injured, Micah would still be Nimir-Raj of our clan but I would have abdicated responsibility to him. Now we’re not merely tied, we’re irrevocably entwined. I was probably saddest about Richard. The ardeur had been the last straw between us. I was sorry I wouldn’t be there to see Richard’s recovery but my permanent absence would give him some breathing room.

It wasn’t just the ardeur. Once upon a time, the line between monsters and humans was well defined for me. It was us versus them and I never looked back. Now there was a real possibility that I would get an execution order for someone I considered a friend. This didn’t just make me unhappy, it frightened me. Because I knew I could carry out that order. Because that’s who I was. I wasn’t sure I liked that person anymore.

I must have passed out again because my own whimpering woke me. Either it was darker or I was going blind. I prayed for the former. It wasn’t as though I wasn’t expecting the latter, but I needed Jean-Claude awake first. I opened the marks between us again and forced myself to push at them. My head throbbed with the effort. I hadn’t mastered the art of speaking mind to mind but there was no sound as I whispered the words, “Jean-Claude.”

His voice in my head was the most welcome thing I had ever heard. “Ma petite?” he said in surprise.

Hearing his voice, I started to cry, hard this time. It hurt. Every shake of my shoulders sent spiky darts of pain to every limb, every muscle, every nerve that my body still possessed. “Jean-Claude,” I tried to repeat.

Ma petite, what is wrong?” There was alarm in his voice. Good. I didn’t have the energy for lengthy explanations.

I swallowed, gathering the last of my energy. Crying had used up any reserves of lung capacity. It wouldn’t be much longer. My heartbeat began to stutter and skip. I thought I’d be scared but I had too much to do first. I was always good at compartmentalizing. “Accident.” I took a breath. “Must protect,” inhale “yourself.” Inhale. “Love you,” inhale. Cough.

Ma petite, where are you?” I pictured Jean-Claude, resplendent in one of his Musketeer outfits and almost smiled. I’d miss his primping. I ignored his question.

“Richard.” Inhale. “Warn Richard.” Inhale. Cough. Two words were about the most I could string together at one time.

Ma petite, you must tell me where you are!” His fear resonated through the marks. I fought to prevent mine from doing the same.

“Damian.” Inhale. “Blood oath.” Inhale. “Don’t let,” inhale “me kill him,” I rushed out in a strained whisper. “Tell Asher,” inhale, cough, “love him.” Inhale. “Yours again.” Tears coursed into my hair, drying in icy rivulets.

“Anita! Tell me where you are!” It was a command this time, master to servant.

“Too late,” I said. “Promise. Help Micah. My leopards.” I couldn’t breathe in between each phrase. Spots had begun floating over in front of my eyes. There were only a few minutes left. “Tell Jason. Sorry.” My chest had constricted as though a steel band had tightened around it.

“Anita, open your eyes. Let me see!” Another order.

It didn’t matter, I couldn’t see anymore whether they were open or closed, but the eyelids responded to my command and opened. “Love you. Sorry took so long.” I whispered, the words barely audible now. “Stay safe.”

“Take my strength, ma petite. Use the marks!” It was a demand. .

“Won’t hurt,” inhale, cough, “you.” I tried to close the marks between us but he blocked the door. We were bound together and I could feel that tie pulling like salt-water taffy. Jean-Claude’s energy reached out to me. I knew I could drain him without even trying hard. I wouldn’t live at his expense. With one last burst of energy, I slammed my shields down. My heartbeat slowed. I had done what it could. I prayed it would be enough. I no longer cared if God thought I shouldn’t be praying for a vampire. His face stayed in the back of my eyes until the darkness pulled me under.

“Miss Blake? Can you hear me, Miss Blake?” Distantly, I thought I heard voices but neither my body nor my mind could respond. I was frozen to the core. There were crunching sounds nearby. I wasn’t sure if that meant there were people outside or animals. I was surprised that all the blood hadn’t attracted predators before now.

“God, there’s a lot of blood. Can you get in there to get her vitals?”

“Be careful, she’s pregnant.” It sounded like Jason’s voice. Not possible.

“Not anymore, she isn’t.” A strained silence followed before, “I’m sorry, man.” Fingers touched like snowflakes against my skin, brief, sharp contact. “She has a pulse, barely, but she’s suffering from hypothermia. And severe blood loss. We gotta get her out of the car. Where the hell is everyone? We need the Jaws of Life!”

The sound of metal screeching hurt my ears but I didn’t have a whimper left.

“I’m a werewolf, gentleman.” Definitely Jason’s voice.

“Anita? You’re going to be okay, Anita. I promise. Just hold on a little longer.” Micah’s voice. Was I dreaming? Was this just a hallucination? Wasn’t I dead?

They tried to keep my body stationary but pain still stabbed through me as they extricated me from the car. A scream built in my chest but it had no outlet. Suddenly I was no longer in my body. I was still connected to it, but I floated above it like a helium balloon.

I was strapped to a backboard, an IV jammed into my arm. My left leg looked like it was bent at an odd angle. My left arm didn’t look much better. Micah and Jason stood back from the proceedings, both looking a little shocky themselves.

“I need to touch her,” Micah told the paramedics.

“Sir, we need to get her up and out of this ravine and into a hospital before we lose her entirely. Frankly, I can’t see how she’s still alive. She’s been here at least fifteen hours. These conditions would have killed most people hours ago.” He was fiddling with his machines.

“You don’t understand,” Micah said through clearly gritted teeth. “She needs to be treated like a lycanthrope.”

“She’s a shifter?” The younger of the two paramedics wore my blood like a winter coat and alarm rang in his question.

“No. No, she’s not. But her body behaves like one. She needs the touch of her group,” Micah rushed the words.

“What she needs is a hospital. Her BP is dropping like a stone. Let’s move!” The two emergency personal lifted the stretcher and began trudging through the snow and ice. My weightless self stared back at the accident site. I couldn’t grasp the idea that the tangle of steel and leather had once been my car. Fresh blood coated the icy ground like rows of cherry snow cones.

Micah gave a nod to Jason and both men took control of the stretcher. “We’re stronger and more agile. You said, move, let’s move.”

If I had had voice to scream, it would have been a continuous one. Though they tried, every step jarred me. My body was more broken than I realized. Sharp pain knifed me again and an alarm went off.

“We’re losing her! Put her down. Now! Get out of the way!” I couldn’t breathe, even my insubstantial self felt my heart seize and stop. I couldn’t see the scene anymore, an icy fire burned through me. I heard all the words, felt the electric shock. This wasn’t the first time my heart had stopped. In fact, I had stopped counting those little incidents. It wasn’t even the first time I had been there for the main resuscitation event, thought this time my life wasn’t being sucked away by demonic forces and there were no witches dashing into the OR to the rescue.

Suddenly a warm wind cooled the burning and I could breathe again, my heart beat against my chest. Reluctant, but it beat.

“Whatever you did, keep doing it. She’s with us again.” The paramedic sounded bewildered.

“I touched her. I told you, she needs my touch.” Micah again.

The stretcher began moving again but Micah’s fingertips against my exposed wrist kept me grounded. I was still floating but the tie to my body had been anchored. If Micah had any say in the matter, I wasn’t dying. Not today.


Title: Consequences

Chapter: 16/18

Author: Sabriel

Contact: sabriel_0405@mindspring.com

Rating: NC-17 for sexual content

Disclaimer: All characters are the intellectual property of the multi-talented Laurell K. Hamilton. The copyright belongs to her. I am borrowing the characters solely for my own enjoyment.

Authors note: From a timeline perspective, this takes place after CS and technically after the short story in the anthology Cravings. However, with only some minor exceptions, the events of the short story are not taken into consideration here. The idea for this story came out of a scene from CS.

Thanks: To Denise. For everything

Chapter 16

I floated in and out of consciousness for days. From the doctors’ perspective, I was in a coma but I came to awareness periodically. Not enough to alert the machines, but enough so that I knew I wasn’t dead. Pain medication was intravenous and kept the worst of it at bay but at the tail end of each dosage, my screaming nerves woke me from my unnatural slumber.

“How is she, doctor?”

“Lucky to be alive. Frankly, it’s a miracle. The damage was extensive, broken limbs, broken ribs, punctured lung, internal bleeding. We repaired what we could. The miscarriage was a bad one. We were able to keep her uterus but I don’t know if she will be able to bear children. I’m sorry.”

“She’s alive, doctor, everything else is secondary.” Micah’s voice. Micah’s touch. The pain machine beeped and I returned to blessed nothingness.

The next time I woke, so to speak, the tension in the air was oppressive.

“It’s all my fault.”

“Jason, don’t be ridiculous. You told me what happened. There was nothing you could have done.” Micah stroked carefully down the arm that was taped to a board. The other was encased in fiberglass. I sincerely hoped rapid healing was in my future.

“Micah, I saw him move, I saw his intent!”

“And what could you have done?” The strokes against my arm were soothing. The drugs were waning but his touch took the edge off. The machines continued their steady beep and hum.

“I could have tackled him. I could have shouted a warning. I could have done something. Instead I stood there like a coward and just let it happen!”

Micah sighed. This was apparently not the first time they had had this discussion. “Jason, if you had done something heroic, Richard would have had to ask why. You would have had to tell him. There would still have been violence.”

“Sure, but against me. I’m a werewolf. I can take the damage. He could have killed her while I stood by and watched! What’s worse is that I stood there after the fact! I just stood there!”

“Anita would have been furious with you if supporting her had endangered you. She didn’t want Richard to know about the baby. It doesn’t matter now since it’s a moot point.”

There was silence. The baby was a moot point. I had miscarried. I knew when the guy slammed into me and I felt that small tearing that it was over. I knew when the cramps overcame me in the car that I was miscarrying. I knew when I went into the ravine that I had failed my unborn daughter. But hearing it said out loud made it real. I wasn’t ready for reality. The pain machine beeped again and I accepted the darkness gratefully.

“Why won’t she wake up?” I knew that voice, plaintive and scared. Nathaniel. I hadn’t thought about Nathaniel after the accident. Though he was my pomme de sang, and though I wanted him sexually, he was not an equal and I had to trust that the others would keep him safe.

“She’ll wake up when she’s ready.” Cherry. I wondered if I was in the shifter hospital.

“Why aren’t we lying with her, healing her?” Nathaniel was pushing. This was good.

“This is a human hospital. They frown on that here. These injuries aren’t preternatural. She needed human intervention, even though she’s healing faster than a human. But we can touch her. Micah thinks it’s been helping.”

“Do you think she’ll be sad about the baby?”

Cherry didn’t respond right away. The hum of the machines made me sleepy but I didn’t want to go back to the darkness. Not before I heard what she had to say. How was I supposed to feel?

“I think she’ll have a lot of feelings. Sadness, guilt, relief, disappointment. There isn’t any one emotion. Do you remember when I told her shifters couldn’t have children because the change was too violent? Anita doesn’t like it when choices are out of her control. This was always out of her control.”

Was that true? I should have been able to control what happened with Jason but I didn’t. I let the ardeur win. Of course, the ardeur had been winning since day one. I wasn’t ready to have emotions yet. It was safer in the dark. It reminded me a little of my killing place, quiet, steady.

The room grew quiet though I had the sense of hands touching me. I don’t remember fading out but the voices had changed the next time I came aware.

“She is so very still. I do not believe I have ever seen her like this, not even in sleep.” The French accent was heavier than usual. I was surprised he wasn’t speaking in French.

“We usually don’t give her a lot of room to move, but I agree, it hurts to see her like this. She isn’t even dreaming. Though, it’s probably better that way.” Micah. I was surprised not to hear Jean-Claude, but since I wasn’t awake, or maybe aware would be a better description, that frequently, I’d probably missed him. “How is Jean-Claude?” Micah asked.

There was a period of silence so long I wasn’t certain I hadn’t slipped back into the darkness. Finally, Asher said, “He is exhausted. He is still so very frightened that he will lose her. He is the Master of the City, which means he cannot show weakness. But each night she remains unreachable to him is painful.”

Again a period of silence. Then I felt them touching me. Apparently I didn’t have the much exposed skin but they touched what I had. Micah rubbed the inside of my arm while Asher laid his fingers on the pulse of my neck. The flash of memory of Asher’s bite on that pulse caused the machines to beep wildly in response. But it was momentary. Their touch felt good. It made my body remember it was alive. It made me think that I should want to be alive.

“Has Richard been by yet?” Asher asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Richard knows everything. Despite her wishes, Jean-Claude did not close the marks between them. It was a good thing or we wouldn’t be here right now. She was dying. In fact, she died several times waiting for rescue. But Jean-Claude kept pushing his power into her, forcing her heart to beat. That kind of metaphysics takes tremendous power and though he had fed, he needed more. He called Richard.”

“I take it you don’t mean by telephone?” Micah said, a rather wry tone to his voice.

Asher made a sound that almost qualified as a chuckle. “Jean-Claude invoked his own power over wolves as his animal to call. You can imagine Richard’s fury. He felt Anita’s pain but didn’t understand it. Then to get Jean-Claude’s call, it was too much. He came into the Circus snarling. Jean-Claude didn’t waste time on diplomacy. He told Richard that he needed to feed on Richard to keep Anita alive and he would do so with or without Richard’s consent. Richard paled but to give him credit, he asked no questions, just offered his neck. Not until we were sure Anita would survive without Jean-Claude’s power did he break that hold. They went into his rooms. I do not know what was said, but Richard was very subdued when he left.”

So Richard knew. I wondered how much. If he knew about the pregnancy or just about the accident. I was surprised he had allowed Jean-Claude to feed. He had let Jean-Claude do it once, for me, the night we first joined our powers. But not since. He didn’t let anyone feed on him.

They had begun to limit the pain medications. I had heard Cherry explaining it to Zane. I should have woken by now, apparently. My body was healing, though the bones were knitting faster than my internal injuries. They were concerned about that. Cherry sat next to me on the bed. The contact of her body against mine spiked a fever. That was a good thing for a lycanthrope, an iffy thing for almost-human. They were shooting antibiotics through my IV to control the infection.

I wasn’t sure that waking up would be a good thing and I did nothing to encourage it. I felt like I was in Snow White’s glass coffin. Or was that Sleeping Beauty? Would I wake with a kiss?

“Some of her last thoughts were to protect me,” Damian said. He hadn’t touched me but I knew his voice.

“That’s who she is, though she would deny it with her last breath.” Rafael. How did he find out?

“She looks so helpless but I keep thinking that if I drew my blade, she’d draw her gun almost faster than I could follow.” He sounded so sad. He picked up my hand and held it.

“She’s a fighter. She’ll come through this. But this will be an emotional recovery as well as a physical one. Anita isn’t used to acknowledging her feelings.”

It was true. Fighting I understood. Feelings confused me. When you fought, you risked getting physically injured. But when feelings got hurt, they didn’t necessarily heal back the way they started. Was that why I hadn’t woken up? Because I didn’t want to have to deal with the repercussions? Are there always consequences?

I didn’t hear them leave, so lost was I in my own thoughts of the future. Just when I had come to terms with a future I hadn’t expected or wanted, I was suddenly faced with the future I had previously. That should have made me happy. I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant. But it left me sad. My fever spiked again. The doctors whispered around me in hushed tones. Physical therapists made sure my body was exercised. I stayed quiet and unmoving, safe in my cocoon.

I heard his footsteps before he said a word. I’d know those footfalls anywhere. “I stayed away as long as I could. Lillian wasn’t sure if my presence would harm you, but I had to see you. I’m sorry, Anita, so very sorry.” He laughed, a sad sound full of self-disgust. “You’ve heard that so many times. I’m sure you think I’m sorry you lost the baby. Or more particularly the way you lost the baby. But that isn’t why I’m apologizing. I’m sorry that you felt the need to hide it from me. I’m sorry that you thought I might hurt Jason. Yes, I know it was Jason. Jean-Claude told me everything.

“I was furious at first. Furious that he called me like a dog to heel. One look at his face stopped me in my tracks. I have never seen such panic, such devastation on anyone’s face before. Jean-Claude is the master at hiding his feelings. But not that night. He would have killed me for my blood if it meant keeping you alive another minute. It was the first time I realized that he really loved you. It wasn’t merely that he won the competition between us. He loves you. I never understood that before.

“When he was sure you were safe, he took me into his room and collapsed on the bed. I fed him again because he was in such need. It was almost selfish. I needed to know what was happening. I had never seen him in such disarray. He looked nothing like the Master of the City. It took him some time to calm down. He took me back to Musette’s visit, what Belle did to us. The consequences to you.

“I couldn’t imagine how you must have felt. How hard it must have been for you to tell any of them. I asked how long you had known. He told me that you had told him and Jason not that long ago. He told me that you didn’t want Jason to tell me because you were afraid that I might hurt Jason. That he also thought that I might hurt Jason.

“I didn’t say anything. The last year has been difficult for me. I don’t hate myself, Anita, but embracing the darkness is frightening. Because I like it so much. Being cruel is so easy. Leading a group of werewolves requires everyday cruelty. Marcus had Raina to inflict daily punishments. I think he used her because he didn’t want to become like her. I am frightened of what I have in me to become.

“I don’t know how I would have reacted if I had found out you were pregnant while you still were. It would have hurt. I wanted kids, the white picket fence, the whole deal. I wanted that with you. I love you, Anita. I probably always will. I want you safe and happy, even if that means you’re in someone else’s arms. I thought Micah was foolish to accept you on your terms. I understand now that you’re like the rest of us, living day by day and hoping that you make it to another dawn. You just do it with more confidence than most.”

It was the longest speech I had ever heard from Richard. It gave me hope that maybe he’d be okay. He hadn’t touched me and I wanted him to. I reached out to him before I realized that my body wasn’t responding. I strained to convince my body to move. I tried moaning but no sound came from my lips.

He left without ever touching me, not even the clichéd goodbye kiss on the lips. It was over between us. I had known that for a long time but I hadn’t really admitted it. Now I knew. If I woke from this suspended animation, I might get Richard back as a friend, but never as a lover. He was finally ready to move on.

I let time pass because it was easier. Because I didn’t want to deal with my reality. But waiting wasn’t making things easier. I was aware now more often than not. The pain meds had been reduced to minimum levels. Neurologists poked at me daily. Micah practically lived here except when the others came in to relieve him. The vampires came after midnight and kept vigil. Even Zerbrowski had been in one night. He hadn’t said much. A few lecherous comments about seeing me in my nightgown. I think he was hoping to get a rise out of me. I hadn’t realized RPIT knew but it made sense that they would have heard. I hoped they hadn’t found out about the miscarriage, but I’d deal with that when, if, I woke. I felt myself hovering on the edge, waiting for the push that would propel me back into the world. I didn’t know how long I could remain in this place between worlds. I could only hope I’d feel the push when it came.

“If I told you that you looked lovely tonight, ma petite, you would accuse me of lying.” Jean-Claude. My heart skipped a beat hearing his sensual voice. I knew he had been there before because others had mentioned it but this was the first time I had heard him, felt him. “But I wouldn’t be lying. You are alive which makes you beautiful in my eyes.”

He sat in the chair next to bed and took my hand in his and pressed it to his lips. I felt the heat and wanted more. I realized that my eyes were closed. Not my body’s actual eyes, though they were also closed, but my inner eyes. I had been hearing people but not seeing people. I wondered why. I had a mental image of opening my eyes and just like that I could see.

I gasped. Jean-Claude looked, well, not like Jean-Claude. He was dressed well enough, all in black, but he looked exhausted. As though he fed just enough for hunger but not enough for satiety. If it was possible for a vampire to age, Jean-Claude had done so. He looked tired. He looked sad

“I miss you, ma petite. The others, they mourn you. The doctors cannot understand why you have not wakened. The longer you sleep, the less likely you will wake, they tell us. They are wrong. I know why you sleep. But you are not a coward, ma petite. You can face your world.” He kissed my hand again and this time I felt something wet splash my hand.

“I need you, ma petite. You should have drawn my energy, drawn on our shared marks, as soon as you woke in need. How could you believe that I would want to live in a world without you in it? Even if you had waited until I woke to draw on my strength, it would have been enough. But you were going to let yourself die. That is not acceptable, ma petite.

“I am sorry about the baby. A daughter with your beauty and quick mind would have been someone special. Asher told me that he spoke to you of Julianna’s desire for children. I had never wished for children before, but once it was fact, oh, ma petite, I had dreams, fantasies, of watching you grow round with child, of watching you grow into motherhood. It will be harder for you, because you did not imagine and yet you will be so humanly haunted by guilt.

“Richard and Jason both gave me their events of that night. You did nothing wrong. You could not have known. You must accept that. You are a true believer, ma petite. Accept that this is His will. It is not punishment, no matter how badly you believe you deserve it.”

Jean-Claude walked over to the door to my room and, seeing that it had no lock, wedged a chair under the handle. The lights were off and it was the middle of the night, so it was unlikely his precautions were necessary. He pulled the privacy curtain around the bed, and then he went into the bathroom for a few minutes. I heard the sound of water running. When he returned he very carefully drew the sheet and blanket off my body. With extreme gentleness, he removed the hospital gown. His eyes closed as he stared at what I assumed were the new decorative scars. I felt rather than saw, a soft scented cloth being drawn against my injured skin. Jasmine and lavender floated around me. He washed me tenderly, lovingly. I hadn’t realized I felt dirty until he washed me, though I knew sponge baths were part of regular hospital routine.

When he was done, he pulled a fluffy towel from somewhere and dried every inch of my skin. It reminded me of other times, times that ended with me in his arms or him in mine, and the tumultuous pleasure that we shared. I wanted that again.

Next was lotion, fragrant and silky. He left no patch of skin unpampered. I didn’t think it was the first time he had done this for me.

When he was done, he dressed me in a silk gown, one designed exactly like a hospital gown but felt so much better against my skin. He restored the room and removed the chair from the door. He sat back down again and took my hand again in his. He just sat there, chafing my hand in his. He looked so depressed. I had never seen Jean-Claude like this before and I didn’t like it. For the first time since the accident I could feel his energy pushing against me. I tried pushing back. He went perfectly still. “Ma petite?” he asked.

I pushed again and whispered in my mind, “Jean-Claude?” The whisper sounded so scared. But it was like a door opened and the spring breeze blew away the winter dust.

Ma petite! Come back to me, ma petite!” It was an order, but a loving one. I strained to wake.

“I don’t know how,” I said.

His smile was filled with relief and joy and other emotions I couldn’t sort out. “You have only to make it so. Come to me, ma petite. Come to my arms. Je t’aime, ma petite.”

I thought about how much I wanted him and I took a mental step forward. It was like pushing through waist-high mud, every step an effort. I was panting from the exertion and he was still just a speck on my horizon. I kept slogging forward. The mud receded to knee-high now. I picked up the pace. I could see Jean-Claude clearly now and I wanted him. I couldn’t run, not yet, but the time was near. When the metaphysical mud was only ankle-deep, I started running. I threw myself into his arms, crying and hugging him tightly, a desperate attempt to anchor myself. The machines in my room had gone crazy. I could hear wild beeping.

My eyes came open and I was seeing again, seeing in colors. I hadn’t even realized my world had been reduced to black, white and sepia until I saw the green of the emerald pendant. Ice touched my lips, followed by a straw. I managed the barest sip of water before it came pouring out of my eyes. Jean-Claude took me gently in his arms and held me until the prick of a needle made it all go away. For better or for worse, I was alive again.


Title: Consequences

Chapter: 17/18

Author: Sabriel

Contact: sabriel_0405@mindspring.com

Rating: NC-17 for sexual content

Disclaimer: All characters are the intellectual property of the multi-talented Laurell K. Hamilton. The copyright belongs to her. I am borrowing the characters solely for my own enjoyment.

Authors note: From a timeline perspective, this takes place after CS and technically after the short story in the anthology Cravings. However, with only some minor exceptions, the events of the short story are not taken into consideration here. The idea for this story came out of a scene from CS.

Thanks: To Denise. For everything

Chapter 17

It was another two days before I was awake for longer periods than I was asleep. They weren’t ready to release me yet, though they had removed my casts. They didn’t know why I had stayed in a coma or how I had woken. It was too difficult to explain vampire marks and metaphysical beasts. Despite having been unconscious for two weeks, Happy New Year, I was exhausted. There was always someone with me. The pard during the day, the vampires at night. Damian enjoyed just being in my presence. As did Nathaniel. I admonished him for not working and he told me that he had Jean-Claude’s permission. I told him I didn’t care. I was his Nimir-Ra and I wanted him to start working again.

I finally convinced Micah to go home to get some rest. He didn’t fight me too hard. He was wiped. We hadn’t talked much. He was just here. I felt safer or at least more comfortable when he was here but Bobby Lee and Claudia had shown up about the same time as Micah had left. They stood sentry at my door. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but I didn’t complain. Nathaniel had given me my Browning. It was under my pillow and made me feel almost normal.

I was having regular physical therapy. I didn’t understand how I could be so weak. Just standing was an effort that had me out of breath. For the first few days I couldn’t make it to the bathroom by myself. Plus I hurt. Needless to say, I was a lousy patient, cranky and intolerant. What I really didn’t understand, however, is why I hadn’t demanded to be released. I hadn’t even asked about it. Oh, they filled me in on my progress but I didn’t ask questions. I huddled under the covers and wished the world would just stop and let me catch my breath. It never did.

I was in one of those moods when Jason walked in. He didn’t have a grin for me, just a sad smile and he didn’t really meet my eyes. I sighed. Why was I always playing Mother Confessor? “Out with it, Jason, what’s wrong?”

He looked up at me, surprised. “I thought you’d be angry at me. I didn’t do anything to stop him from hurting you.” Ah, yes, the incident at the Lupanar. It seemed like so long ago. I suppose it was.

“Jason, if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine,” I said. “I’m Bolverk. I took my eye off him because I was so impressed with Richard truly being Ulfric for a change.” I laughed but there was no humor.

“He knows,” Jason said.

I still possessed the memories or dreams or hallucinations of my comatose period, so this news didn’t surprise me, but I also wasn’t sure what was real. “What does he know?”

“He knows that you were pregnant and he knows I was the father.” Okay, that pretty much summed it up.

“What happened?”

“You mean how did he find out? Jean-Claude. You have to understand what happened that night, Anita. Jean-Claude called me, I mean really called me. It was a command that I couldn’t disobey. He had never done that before and I came running. I hope never to see that look on his face again. He was anguished. He told me that you were dying and he didn’t know where you were but that we had to find you. Then Richard came flying in, so angry I was almost afraid to leave them alone, not because they’d need my help but because they’d need a witness. Anyway, that’s when Richard found out.”

“How did you find me?” I asked, wanting to fill in that part of the puzzle since his version of Richard’s entrance jived with what I remember from my out-of-body experience.

“A few of us changed into our were-forms and went hunting. I knew you had to have had the accident on the way home from the Lupanar. I guessed you were going home to Micah and Nathaniel. We just weren’t sure we would locate you in time. Micah went with you to the hospital and I went back to the Circus. I didn’t know if Jean-Claude would need more blood.”

“Thanks,” I said.

He kissed me softly on the lips. “Don’t do that to us again,” he said. “And I am sorry about the baby. I was getting excited about it.”

I reached for his hand and he clasped mine. The contact was warm, comforting. I wondered what werewolf satisfied his need for touch. “This won’t be your last chance at fatherhood, though it was definitely your only chance of fatherhood through me!” I could almost laugh about it and I could see the corners of Jason’s mouth turning up.

He stayed with me until I drifted off to sleep again, which didn’t take long. I don’t know how long I slept but the first thing I saw when I woke was the gold of Asher’s hair. “Asher!” I said with heartfelt pleasure.

Ma cherie,” he said. Only those words but I heard so much more behind them. He kissed me and what started as a gentle brush of his lips on mine quickly escalated as I pulled him toward me and deepened the contact. He opened his mouth over mine and my tongue darted in between the fangs. I was gasping by the time he released me. But it had felt so good, the tingle of arousal across my flesh. It wasn’t need, just an unexpected feeling of joy.

Micah had touched me, of course. All the pard had. But those touches didn’t have this lightning rod effect. My nerve endings pulsed with sensation. Asher had been able to do this to me from the first, even when he thought he hated us. I smiled at him and put all that love, that wanting, that need into my eyes.

“The look in your eyes binds me to you more securely than any vampire marks ever could,” he said, but there was a sadness in his voice that reminded me that though we were lovers, I belonged to Jean-Claude.

“Walk with me?” I asked.

He seemed taken aback. “Should you be up?”

“Early and often.” I sat up slowly and swung my legs out of bed. Asher helped me on with my Christmas robe, the opaque one. I steadied myself and we went out into the hallway. It was late and visiting hours were long over. Jean-Claude must have promised the hospital a new wing or something because no one seemed overly concerned at my late night guests. I wasn’t altogether sure where I was and I hadn’t asked. It said a lot for my mental state.

Asher and I made a few rounds. That took all my energy. I was pale to begin with but he got concerned when my skin gained a translucent quality. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t have to. He knew as well as I did that losing the baby had been for the best. But the time wasn’t right to admit that out loud. He tucked me back into bed, kissed my forehead like a child and held my hand until I drifted off.

Micah returned after lunch the next day. He looked better now that he had slept and eaten food that he wasn’t via a drive-through or the hospital cafeteria. I suspected he had slept around the clock but I didn’t ask. We talked about pard business and other general things. I didn’t ask if the Christmas tree had been taken down or what they had done with the ornaments. He wore the bracelet I gave him. I was more restless now and knew I couldn’t stay here much longer. I made him walk with me every thirty minutes. Unfortunately, it still didn’t take long to exhaust my reserves. He helped me back into bed and told me to rest, that he’d still be here. I didn’t have any choice. On the plus side, I had graduated to solid food. So solid, in fact, that I could eat whatever I wished. I woke to the smell of Chinese food.

After dinner I showered with Micah’s help, brushed my teeth and otherwise felt almost human again. The doctor stopped in and told me I would be discharged in the morning. I should have been excited but in fact I wasn’t ready. I should have demanded my release from the moment I came out of the coma. Hell, I had gotten up and faced the bad guys after coming back from the dead. But not this time. This time I was hiding. I wondered when that would make me mad.

Jean-Claude came in, looking dazzling as usual. He was more casual tonight, black jeans, rather than black leather, but the effect was the same. I brought him down to me for a kiss and because I wanted the scent of his skin. I inhaled deeply. Micah made to leave, but Jean-Claude told him to stay and relax. It was nice to see my men comfortable in the other’s company. With Jean-Claude, you never knew how it would be. I drifted in and out, their voices a background murmur. I was no longer hooked up to machines or IVs, which gave me tremendous freedom of movement.

I came to awareness again with a suddenness that alerted both men. Heat burned through me, scalding me in waves. The ardeur. It had been weeks since I had fed. Weeks since the fire had last wakened. Jean-Claude said it could be gentle and it had been. But now it consumed me and I was not strong enough either to resist or to partake. I screamed as I drew my nails down my arms, leaving long bloody scratches.

The door burst open at the same time as Micah yelled, “Anita!” and Jean-Claude cried, “No, ma petite!” A cool wind blew through my body and I could breathe again. Jean-Claude held my hands away from my body. The wererats had guns drawn looking for the threat. Micah told them that all was well, or near enough considering I was involved. The nurses hadn’t responded at all. Maybe they were used to screams?

Jean-Claude released me very slowly. “Have no fear, ma petite, I am controlling the ardeur for now.”

Micah had gone to the bathroom for some paper towels. He cleaned the scratches. I was trembling.

“I can’t feed now. Not here. Please not here,” I begged. It wasn’t just the setting that I found so objectionable it was that I wasn’t strong enough to endure the flame. It would overwhelm me in ways I didn’t want to consider.

Jean-Claude looked thoughtful for a moment. “Ma petite, I believe I have another solution. If mon minet is willing,” he said, looking at Micah.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Though you do not have enough control to feed from a distance, I believe if you kept the marks between us open, I could feed you without touching you.”

“What do you need me to do?” Micah asked. Jean-Claude pulled him aside and they spoke in low tones. Micah flushed slightly, but nodded his head. Micah went to the door and said something to the wererats guarding the door. For good measure, he wedged a chair beneath the doorknob. That made me very nervous.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

Jean-Claude looked at me. “I’m going to seduce Micah,” he said. I blushed remembering the dream.

I looked at Micah or rather at Micah’s chest. “Are you okay with that?”

He nodded but I didn’t see him. He tilted me chin up to look at him. “I’m okay with it, Anita. Whatever you need, remember?”

“How will this work?”

“Open the marks, ma petite, and you will see.” To Micah he said, “You can stop this at any time. I have no wish to frighten you.”

“I understand.” Micah dimmed the lights. Jean-Claude produced a scented candle from somewhere and lit it. Roses perfumed the air.

“Micah,” I began, not wanting him to do something that made him uncomfortable.

“It’s all right, Anita. Really.” He kissed me for good measure and my beast rose in excitement. I stuffed it down. Only one hunger at a time.

Jean-Claude released the ardeur as I opened the marks. Through the burning flame I felt Micah! I watched Jean-Claude stroke the nape of his neck but it was my hands feeling his warm flesh. Jean-Claude drew long fingers down those arms, across that chest and it was me touching him, me rubbing those nipples to hardness. We both gasped. It was a delicate dance they performed, those hands guiding Micah’s body, touching, stroking, arousing. Micah looked surprisingly at ease while Jean-Claude’s hands roamed his nearly nude body.

When Jean-Claude turned Micah toward him and kissed him, my eyes widened. But my mouth opened, my tongue searching, reaching. I was panting, feeling the glide of Micah’s tongue against mine. Micah was bare from the waist up and Jean-Claude was making the most of it. My own upper body was completely sensitized. Suddenly Jean-Claude’s chest was bare.

Micah moved to touch Jean-Claude. The voluntary movement on Micah’s part turned him from seduced to seducer and it gave me unexpected control I pushed the ardeur back just a bit. “Micah?” Just his name, but he knew.

“He said you would feel as though I was touching you and I very much want to be touching you.” Hunger turned his kitty-cat eyes bright gold. He ran his hands over Jean-Claude’s chest. It was as if he stroked my own body. When he sucked one of Jean-Claude’s nipples, my own hardened and I felt the sting of teeth. I wanted, oh how I wanted.

The ardeur was pleased by this development and burned more intensely. The kisses had also intensified. I could barely breathe as Micah used his lips and tongue against our bodies. Jean-Claude’s hand curved around Micah’s now naked ass. That firm muscle against our fingers cried out to be squeezed. Micah moaned. Jean-Claude’s other hand stroked Micah’s erection. He felt so good in our hand, so right. I tightened my grip, fisting him, metaphysically. It wasn’t enough. Jean-Claude knelt in front of Micah and took the tip of him into our mouth. My head fell back as if the pleasure was too great a force to resist. The taste, the texture of him, so familiar. My tongue snaked out and licked.

Micah curled one hand into the blanket on my bed and the other into Jean-Claude’s silken curls. He moaned and stroked our head, encouraging more of the hot, wet caresses. “Please,” I begged, wanting to go faster, taste longer, touch more. Jean-Claude increased his pace but barely. I could taste Micah’s pleasure in our mouth, the heat of him, the pearled drops that leaked from his tip. They slid down our throat and I wanted.

“Kiss me,” I cried and Micah pulled Jean-Claude up and kissed him deeply, his erection rubbing against our thigh. Jean-Claude guided Micah’s hands back to his nipples and I cried out as our nipples were pinched and pulled and the breasts kneaded. Micah stroked Jean-Claude’s cloth-covered erection and I nearly swooned. It felt different but Jean-Claude force-fed the pleasure into me, turning it into a familiar touch. My arousal scented the room.

We were all on the edge but Jean-Claude wouldn’t grant us release. I thought I would hyperventilate as he used his lips and tongue against all the soft, hidden places on Micah’s body. When Micah returned the favor I expected the pleasure to burst over us but it didn’t. His tongue was nearly kitty-cat rough against our stomach, our inner thighs. I wanted release, I needed release. The ardeur consumed me, and the hotter I burned, the more Jean-Claude held back. He lifted his mouth from Micah’s body long enough to exhort me to feed.

I rode the pleasure along that fine line of pain until finally, reduced to near incoherence, I reached out to both men. My hands against their naked flesh unexpectedly completed the circuit. We exploded in a satisfaction so intense I didn’t think I could bear it. Jean-Claude kept feeding me the pleasure, his, mine, ours, until I could no longer see past the orgasm, my world reduced to that one shining moment.

I have no memories of the rest of that night. When I woke, Micah was beside me, his body molded to mine, protecting me. A trio of roses, two red and one white lay entwined on my pillow. It was time to go home, whether I was ready or not.


Title: Consequences

Chapter: 18/18

Author: Sabriel

Contact: sabriel_0405@mindspring.com

Rating: NC-17 for sexual content

Disclaimer: All characters are the intellectual property of the multi-talented Laurell K. Hamilton. The copyright belongs to her. I am borrowing the characters solely for my own enjoyment.

Authors note: From a timeline perspective, this takes place after CS and technically after the short story in the anthology Cravings. However, with only some minor exceptions, the events of the short story are not taken into consideration here. The idea for this story came out of a scene from CS.

Thanks: To Denise. It’s thanks to you I made it this far!

Chapter 18

For what it was worth, I was home. Even that had been a problem. Jean-Claude wanted me to go back the Circus. Micah wanted me to go back home. They looked at me. I shrugged and said it didn’t matter. It was not the right answer. Micah won out in the end.

It felt strange to be back in my own bed. Nathaniel snuggled against my body like I was his last refuge in a storm. With Micah on the other side of me, I knew I was safe. But I couldn’t sleep. The first few nights were endless. I wasn’t tired anymore. I wasn’t anything. Cherry was in full nurse mode making sure I ate, watching me for signs of pain. It wasn’t the outside that hurt.

On the fourth night, I sought out Damian. He was content to hold me for hours. It wasn’t sexual. At least not on my part. I was too numb to notice. I had cut my hand earlier in the day. That wasn’t like me, I was good with knives. I just stared at the blood, a crimson puddle bright against the white Formica. It hadn’t hurt. Cherry walked into the kitchen, saw the blood dripping off the countertop and nearly screamed the house down. She wasn’t panicked, not our Cherry, but she was afraid that I was a danger to myself. She may have been right.

Eventually I slept, and in the morning when I woke I was sandwiched between my pomme de sang and my Nimir-Raj. Everyone walked on tiptoes around me, afraid to say anything that might upset me. It was worse than when they thought I might be Nimir-Ra for real. Micah shook me awake and told me that he was going to work. He didn’t want me to wake to an empty house. The fact that I was sleeping a lot during the day was one of the reasons I wasn’t sleeping at night. It was also a symptom of depression.

In the back of my mind, I knew I was depressed, but I didn’t understand what that meant. It was just a word. I was sitting on the couch staring at the television, which might have been less odd had the television been turned on, when Jason walked in. I should have drawn on him. I should have moved at faster-than-human speed and had him sighted. He should have known better than to come into the house without warning. But I never moved, never gave any indication that I knew he was there.

“Anita, are you okay?” he asked. He didn’t try to touch me. Hell, he didn’t come anywhere near me.

“I’m fine. Why are you here?” The answers were automatic. I hadn’t looked at him. I hadn’t needed to. Jason was familiar to me. I knew the sound of his footsteps, the scent of his skin.

“Because you aren’t fine. We’re worried about you. I’m worried about you. I’m worried about me.” The last was said almost so quietly that I should have missed it.

“Didn’t we go through this already? I don’t blame you,” I said, a hint of aggravation edging my voice.

“Anita, this isn’t about blame. It’s about what we lost.” He sounded so grown-up, so un-like Jason.

“What this ‘we’ business? There is no ‘we’. This was a one time event not to be repeated!” I was angry now and wasn’t sure if I appreciated the heat riding me. I almost got off the couch.

“Fine, ignore it if you want, pretend it didn’t happen. But I lost something. And I don’t know how to deal with it.” He practically snarled it. He was sitting on the chair opposite me. I finally looked at him. He had more color than the television, but he looked awful.

I sighed. “Jason, it was hardly real. You couldn’t have been dreaming about father-daughter dances already.” Jason reacted as if I had physically punched him.

“Jesus, Anita, don’t you ever imagine the future? I pictured rocking a tiny infant in pink and frolicking with a little girl in frills. I dreamt of senior proms. I even imagined roughhousing with her in my wolf form.”

No, I didn’t imagine the future. I was too certain I wouldn’t have one. I lived recklessly and other people had been paying the price. It was only a matter of time before payback “Look, I’m sorry, Jason. But you’ve known me for years. I don’t daydream about might-have-beens. I don’t have that luxury!”

“Maybe it’s time you realized it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. In the hospital, you said if anyone was to blame it was you. I didn’t deny it, though I felt pretty damn guilty myself. But blame isn’t the word I would have used. You were thoughtless, not with the baby but with yourself. In someone else the word might have been careless but that isn’t one of your failings. You tend to think you’re invincible, as if your death wouldn’t matter. But it would. Your death would kill Jean-Claude and Richard. I saw Jean-Claude that night, Anita. Even if you didn’t kill him through the marks, he would have literally died from a broken heart. You’d destroy your pard, despite Micah’s leadership. You want to talk luxuries, well you don’t have the luxury of living your life in a vacuum!”

I stood up, anger flowing through my veins a lot hotter than the blood that had rushed to my head fast enough to make me dizzy. “How dare you lay accusations at my feet!”

“I’m just beginning,” Jason said, standing also. “You may not think the rest of us have the right to grieve, but we have been anyway. I’m the one who took Jean-Claude and Asher shopping for the baby clothes and toys. Let me tell you, you want to panic a room full of expectant mothers just bring a few vampires into their midst! If you think all they bought you were the gifts you opened, you should think again. You’ll never see them, of course, but there’s a closet full of stuff. They were both so excited. They kept talking about how beautiful you were and how pregnancy made you glow. I don’t think I have ever seen Asher this animated. Jean-Claude actually imagined holding you as you breast-fed. You aren’t the only one who lost something!”

I tried to say something but Jason wasn’t finished.

“What about Nathaniel? It wasn’t just Christmas that had him so excited. He saw your daughter as the little sister he always wanted. He even started talking about names, Anita. Baby names! Your whole pard is afraid to even mention your miscarriage but they all want to talk about it. They have feelings, Anita. You are their leader and their friend. They hurt for you!”

“Get out, Jason. You have no right to make me feel guilty!”

He looked me in the eye and I saw the man he was becoming. “Someone had to get you to feel something.”

I was motionless, stupefied, as he walked out the door. Emotions, all negative, roiled through me. I usually relished my anger but this time I had no one to fight except myself. I tried sitting back down but the energy coursing through me wouldn’t allow me to do so.

I forced myself to shower. The Browning was on the top of the toilet tank. At least some things hadn’t changed. I wore Asher’s gift back to my bedroom. It felt good against my skin and I hugged it around me. I pulled open one of the dresser drawers to grab a polo shirt and pulled out one of the baby outfits from Christmas. I hadn’t asked about the baby stuff when I came home. Everything from Christmas had been put away. Out of sight and all that.

It was so tiny, a doll’s dress really, pink and ruffled and so soft. I stood there holding it, confused, for long minutes. At first, I didn’t understand what I was seeing. I mean, I knew what I was holding. I just couldn’t understand why it was in my drawer. Then it hit me, really hit me. It hadn’t been a bad dream. Like the night I came out of my coma, emotion completely overwhelmed me. I sank to my knees and sobbed.

I had been going to have a baby. There wasn’t even a correct grammatical syntax for the verb tense. It hadn’t been real to me. I dealt with it the way I dealt with everything in my life that I couldn’t handle. I ignored it or made it someone else’s problem. It wasn’t as simple as never having wanted children. That would have been easy. Religion or not, I could have had an abortion. But that would have meant acknowledging the pregnancy.

I made Micah and Nathaniel and Cherry and Zane take the responsibility. I ate because they made me. I stopped helping RPIT because they said it was too dangerous. I rested because they said was good for the baby. If it had been up to me, I would have let the dice fall where they may, which was exactly what had happened in the end, only lots of people had suffered for it.

Jason had guts, I’d give him that. I could make smart remarks about how he wasn’t old enough to be a father, but Jason had a lot more maturity than I gave him credit for. I used to look down on him for being Jean-Claude’s snack. He was a college student when I first met him. He gave up all that to join the monsters. I had long ago stopped being sure that was a bad choice. For all that he came over to shake me out of my complacency, Jason wasn’t lying when he admitted to feeling sad. It was easy to picture him as the father of a little girl. I hoped he got that chance.

I hated when other people paid the price for my behavior but once again, that’s what happened. I had hurt people with my stubbornness before and apparently, I hadn’t learned. Because I hadn’t let myself dream, losing the baby was only one piece of my melancholy. I was so afraid of hurting people that I did my best to push them away. They got hurt anyway.

Micah was always by my side. I don’t mean like Nathaniel who needed me in ways I couldn’t handle. Micah didn’t need me. He enjoyed the protection I offered but he didn’t need me. That scared me. Micah voluntarily chose to be mine. He never offered censure when I went to other men. He never told me I was wrong, though he might help me come to that conclusion all on my own. When I think what he did for me in the hospital, I was both aroused and disturbed. Aroused because I could not be around Micah and not want to touch him. The metaphysics that bind us together pull us tighter with every act of sex, something that was true for the triumvirate as well. That fact caused me to run once. One of the many luxuries I only thought I had.

I was disturbed because for all that Micah didn’t need me, I worried that I still practiced a subtle coercion on him. He fed the ardeur without complaint but this was different. He put on a sex show for me. I’ve never been comfortable asking people to do things I wouldn’t do myself but Micah never hesitated. I thought about my insistence that I didn’t really love Micah and felt shame. I never realized how much I took from others without giving back. I knew what I was doing to Nathaniel was unfair. I hated that he was my food. But I didn’t realize what I was doing to Micah.

Tears rushed forward again and I let them come. I had known that I needed everything to be my way, but I hadn’t realized just how much I used people. The ardeur had heightened the problem, but I couldn’t blame it for everything. All my cats came to me out of need, need for safety, need for home. I provided that, but the price was high. I almost choked on my tear-swollen laughter.

I only had to look at Damian to know just how high the price. He had a coffin in my basement. He kept me from flying off the handle. He owed his very life to my own. But what did I really give him? I used him like I used everyone else in my life. I expected him to be available when it was convenient to me. What’s worse is that those were now his expectations.

About the only person now free of my hold was Richard. I already missed him. I had never stopped loving him But all the love in the world can’t make two people suited to each other. I had figured that out a long time ago but I still kept him bound to my side. I wasn’t sure if I was still Bolverk. I wasn’t sure it mattered.

I shouldn’t have had more tears but as I reflected on my selfishness, they kept coming. Isn’t that truly what separated the monsters from the humans? I treated Jean-Claude horribly. I always had, first because I couldn’t believe vampires weren’t monsters and then simply because I could. He insisted that he wanted only me in his bed though he was delighted once again to have Asher’s pleasure as well. But having Asher without me? That wasn’t allowed. Because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea. As if my wishes were the only important ones. Jean-Claude agreed because he couldn’t bear the thought of losing me. I used to believe it was my power he couldn’t bear losing. Then I started believing that he might really love me. Now I knew that couldn’t be possible. I imposed unreasonable demands on the people I cared most about, hoping that either they would jump through my hoops and I could keep raising the bar, or that they would finally admit defeat and I could justify what I had done. God, why had I woken up?

Micah snapped on the light in the bedroom. I hadn’t noticed it had gotten dark any more than I had heard him come home. I was still curled in a fetal position on the floor. “Anita! My God, Anita, what’s wrong?” He lifted me off the floor effortlessly and put us both on the bed. “You’re freezing!”

I hadn’t answered him, hadn’t moved. He began chafing my hands. “Anita, talk to me. Are you hurt? Are you in pain? God, you’re so cold!” He wrapped his body around mine like an electric blanket. I started to cry again, as if his heat had melted me.

“Micah, why do you stay with me?” I asked. At least that was my intent. It came out a little more garbled than that.

Micah didn’t respond to me, not until I tilted my face up to look at him. Then he asked, “Anita, what are we talking about?” There was no judgment in voice, no hint of exasperation, no censure.

“I don’t understand why you stay with me. You know I’ll keep your pard safe. I know the sex is good but you could have good sex with anyone. I come with so much baggage.” My voice was small and tight and I wasn’t even close to being warm.

It was long minutes before Micah answered me. “They told me that it would eventually hit you, the enormity of what happened. I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you earlier.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” I said, my voice muffled by being buried against his chest. I had burrowed into him as far as I could without being welded to his body.

He sighed this time. “Anita, I don’t stay with you simply because we are a mated pair. Sure, that was a sweet introduction. I would tell you that I love you but that has the tendency to scare you. So why do I stay? Anita, I like you. You have incredible integrity and are immensely loyal to those people you call friends. We all have baggage. We all want to be accepted for who and what we are. You fight yourself harder than anyone else I’ve ever met. You think you don’t deserve happiness so you push it away whenever it comes into reach. But you’re surrounded by people who are stronger than you and don’t push very easily. We’re with you for the long haul. Not just because you are our Nimir-Ra but because you’re our friend.”

Tears slipped down my cheeks and onto his chest. “I killed my baby.”

“No, an accident killed your baby.” Micah was implacable.

“I never wanted to have a baby. I pretended she wasn’t real. I pretend anything I don’t like isn’t real.”

He stroked my hair. “Anita, you didn’t kill the baby. Wishing you had never gotten pregnant didn’t kill the baby. Not telling Richard you were pregnant didn’t kill the baby. It was an accident. Yes, the werewolf meant to hurt you. But he meant to hurt you, not your baby. It was an accident.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that everything has to be my way. That I treat all of you like personal servants. Except for my actual vampire servant. I control his very life! You tell me you like me, but I am not sure what that says about you. I don’t think I’m a very nice person.” This brought on a new bout of tears. I had to be dehydrated by now.

Sighing, Micah got out of bed without responding to me. When he came back he held two mugs. My favorite penguin mug held coffee with cream and sugar. The other mug, “You know you drink too much coffee when you don't get mad, you get steamed” was filled with soup. He put them down on the night table and got back into bed. He pulled me between his spread legs so that I was propped up against his back. Guess which mug he handed me first?

They hadn’t let me have coffee in the hospital. It tasted heavenly. I was pretty amazed that it tasted at all. Food, even cashew chicken and crab rangoon, had been largely uninteresting to me since I woke up. I took a few more sips before Micah did a mug switch on me. Chicken soup and coffee aren’t the best combination but I wasn’t in a position to be picky. We didn’t speak until I had finished both mugs. I curled back into him again, warmer now, but no more balanced.

He ran his fingers through my curls and tucked an errant strand behind my ear. “Do you still believe that Jean-Claude is attracted to you only for your power?” Micah asked.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t believe he didn’t have an ulterior motive for wanting me in his life, not when I fought him at every turn.

Micah decided not to wait. “He was at the hospital every night. At first, he just held your hand and murmured soothing things in French. But as the days went by, he grew restless. He started bathing you on the third night. He mixed the water with scented oils and gently drew the cloth down your skin. And he talked to you. It was like a ritual, one that seemed to relax him. Something had to. He fed only enough to keep his vampires alive. His hands shook as he bathed you. I finally made him feed from me. I understood, though we never spoke of it, that your death would kill him in all the ways that mattered.

It was in the early hours, the ones right before dawn, that he would talk to me. More precisely, talk at me. He talked about you, about how much you had changed since he first met you, your continued crisis of conscience. He respects that, you know. He pushes you, of course, but he views that as part of the fun. He likes you, Anita. For all the same reasons that the rest of us do. For all the same reasons that we love you.”

I still didn’t say anything. I just hugged Micah’s arms around me tighter. “How can I be in love with all of you?” I whispered. “How you can you love me back knowing that you aren’t the only one in my heart?”

He sighed. “The heart wants what the heart wants. Who knows what love is, Anita. The first person who can manufacture attraction will be able to print his own money. Meanwhile, we all do the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.”

Now it was my turn to sigh. I heard him, I just didn’t believe him.

“What if I told you that while you were out of the picture, word got out and a bunch of alpha leopards came into town?” Micah said, rather too casually in my opinion.

I pushed away from him. “What are you talking about? How dare other leopards come into this territory without asking permission! Did they threaten you? Do you know where they are?” My Browning was in the holster hanging on the headboard. I grabbed it and held onto the headboard to steady myself.

“Where are you going?” Micah asked.

I looked at him oddly. “Micah, you just told me that rogue wereleopards are here in St. Louis! We have to take care of this now! Where are Merle and Noah?”

Micah ignored me. He cocked his head at me and asked, “Why do we need to do something?”

Now I was exasperated. I was standing now, a little shaky, but the caffeine had begun to work its magic. “Our people could get hurt. You know that. You’re Nimir-Raj. Why are you just sitting there?” Okay, I’d just gone straight into anger. Didn’t that feel normal.

“Because there is no threat. I said, what if. Look at yourself. A few minutes ago you were curled up tighter than a pill bug. But as soon as you thought there was a threat to someone you consider yours, you pulled yourself together. You’d pull yourself off your deathbed to protect one of your own. But not to save your own life.”

I stood there, replaying the conversation. “It doesn’t negate what I did. What I allowed to happen. My carelessness cost a life. This wasn’t the first time.” I thought about Philip and how he died because I didn’t know what I was doing. I thought about Cris and Igor, the wererats who had died as my bodyguards. I even thought about Ronnie, who had taken two lives in order to save mine. Being around me practically guaranteed a short life span.

“Forget about listening to me, Anita. Just think about your actions. You think you’re selfish. I think you put yourself last. You make sure that everyone else’s needs are satisfied before you handle your own.”

I blushed when he said that, because of course it wasn’t true. The ardeur had forced me to put my needs first. That’s what got me into this mess in the first place. “You forget the ardeur,” I whispered.

“No, I don’t. You feed it only when you have no other choice and you’ll hurt yourself rather than give in, like you did at the hospital.”

I blushed harder. “I made you-”

He cut me off. “You didn’t make me do anything I wasn’t willing to do. Jean-Claude made it clear to me that there were alternatives. But when he told me you would feel my touch on his body, I didn’t hesitate.”

I dropped my eyes.

He tugged at my hand. “Come on, put the gun down and get back into bed. When I went out to make the soup, I made a few calls. I told everyone that you needed some time, so we have the place to ourselves.”

I did what he asked because I couldn’t think of a reason not to.

“I know you didn’t want to see a therapist in the hospital but you shouldn’t deal with this on your own. Gwen would be happy to help. You don’t have to be strong all the time.”

“It’s who I am,” I said. But was it? The last few months skewed my world. I had never been weaker, needier than I had been since I discovered I was pregnant. Yet my world hadn’t collapsed. My leopards had risen to the occasion. It hadn’t scared them. My vampires had embraced me. Jason had shown himself to be a genuine adult. It had even freed Richard. I had tried to keep everyone away and yet they came anyway. I tried to keep them out of danger, but I couldn’t live their lives. Hell, I could barely live mine.

I rubbed my belly. I had barely been showing and now there was nothing left to show. I was underweight after the last few weeks though I was certain that Jean-Claude would be delighted to escort me to any, if not every, restaurant in the city. Maybe I wouldn’t argue with him too much about tasting the appetizers though wine was still out of the question. I couldn’t change my basic nature that much.

It would take time, I knew. I hadn’t changed my mind about children. They didn’t belong in my life. This had been for the best. I thought I would always feel a small pang of curiosity about the road not taken. I knew I would always feel sad. I owed Jason an apology and a talk. A real one. He shouldn’t go through this by himself.

He was right though. I’ve been trying to live my live as though I my actions impacted no one else but that isn’t what happens, is it? Everything that we do affects others. Jason claimed that being careless wasn’t one of my failings but he may have been wrong. I was careless with the most important thing of all, other people’s feelings. I was surrounded by people who loved me, not for what I could do for them, but just for who I was. I hadn’t let myself believe that because it wasn’t tangible. I couldn’t see it, touch it, or taste it. But I could feel it. That had to be enough.

There are consequences to every action. They can be as large as not buckling a seatbelt or as small as not taking a pill. Sometimes those consequences tear the very fabric of your life. No one knows that better than I do. Now I just have to prevent myself from forgetting. Again.






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