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Anita sat in the first class seat believing that if she had to fly this was the way to go. Leave it to Edward to open her up to this experience. He had decided to leave Albuquerque with her in light of the note Olaf had left behind with the professor. Anita needed a crazed serial killer wanting her to be his girl friend and sidekick right now like she needed more stitches. She was nobody's Bonnie to their Clyde that much was a certainty.
She felt Edward's hand close over hers on the armrest bringing her to look at him instead of the clouds. She gave him a slight smile comforted by his warmth, by the knowledge he knew of her fear of flying and didn't ridicule her for it. "I'm fine," she said realizing what an enigma this man Edward, Ted was. They could kill one another on a moment's notice without regret, yet both knew that a part of the other one would be missing without the other here.
She hadn't had much time to dwell on her reasons for disliking Ted being engaged. It wasn't just the children whose lives he would be altering either. She believed that when he ended things with Donna that he would do it in such a way that Becca and Peter wouldn't be harmed by the separation.
He had mentioned something about Anita being his soul mate and while she knew it wasn't a romantic thing, she couldn't help but feel that a part of her would be lost if he was married to someone else. Her connection to Edward in some ways was more serious than the connection she shared with Jean Claude and Richard. There were no preternatural elements involved; they were just simply enough alike that they fit together.
That thought caused her to laugh to herself. He wasn't a monster in the true sense of the word, at least the sense of the word that he and Anita had come to taken it to mean over the years. She knew that it bothered him that she slept with two of the monsters they both hunted. But yet, he was a monster too. He just wasn't preternatural, the undead, a lycanthrope or anything else. He was your ordinary average Joe who was a hunter, a predator, a stalker, and a killer.
Anita was glad that she had so far avoided being his prey. She knew without a doubt had he accepted the contract out on her life that she'd be dead now. While she was still wary of him sometimes, she would have let him into her apartment without a thought. He could have drawn a gun on her and she would have thought it was just another new toy to show her or gift her with.
It would have been that simple for him, because when it came right down to it, Anita trusted Edward. She trusted that neither would go behind the other's back if it came to wanting the other dead. It would be like in one of those old westerns where they had a shoot out in the middle of town. Whoever drew their gun fastest and delivered the killing shot first would be the victor. That's how it would go down between them, neither would surprise the other.
Edward just needed someone different than Donna. True, she had come through in the end for Becca and Peter, but Anita wasn't convinced the transformation would last. She'd see what happened when the next crisis came along.
She must have dozed off because the next thing she knew the plane was landing. Edward had decided for safety purposes it would be best if they flew into Chicago and worked their way southwest to St. Louis by car. Anita wasn't altogether sure why exactly this was best or safest, but Edward knew Olaf best.
She had worked hard since her accident to keep the blocks in place so that Jean-Claude and Richard could not access her mind. She felt pushes every once in a while, and knew that one of them was trying. She assumed they would realize she was okay since her blocks were back in place and secure.
Edward checked them into a hotel, separate but adjoining rooms. Anita knew it was yet another attempt of Edward's to protect her from Olaf. The doors adjoining their suite remained closed, but both had unlocked their respective door once inside. Anita stood with her back against the door more frightened than she cared to admit.
A human stalking her, hunting her wasn't quite the same as the undead or something else preternatural. Humans weren't supposed to stalk her. She wondered if Edward found it as odd as she did that he was taking her to Jean-Claude in order to stay safe. She didn't particularly like it, but she understood his reasoning. Olaf would be hard pressed to get into the bowels of the Circus. She just hoped Jean-Claude realized it was a temporary situation.
At first it had struck Anita as odd that Edward had chosen Jean-Claude over Richard. He had liked Richard up until learning that he was a lycanthrope. Now that she had time to think on it, though, it wasn't surprising in the least. Jean-Claude would move heaven and earth if he could to keep her safe. Would Jean-Claude risk his life for hers? There were times she thought that he would not, but inevitably she believed he would. And if he did not want to or decided not to it would be after much thought. Anita didn't believe Richard would give himself up for her.
She took a quick shower, made an attempt at managing her curls without the proper equipment or hair products and then knocked on the door leading to Edward's. They had agreed to get dinner before retiring for the night. She was glad, she didn't want to be alone with her thoughts and fears when she knew she'd be unable to sleep.
Even without Jean-Claude with her physically or otherwise she found herself ordering food and wine with him in mind. If Edward noticed he said nothing, and at the last minute Anita changed her order of a glass of wine to a beer just to prove to herself that she could.
"So do you really think he's going to come after me, Edward?" They were standing in front of her hotel room now. She really didn't like the idea of going to Jean-Claude out of necessity, to have to stay with him. It was tempting fate far too much, tipping the scales in his favor too far. She believed Edward knew this too, but Edward had to find Olaf he couldn't worry about Anita at the same time. He, like Anita, knew Jean-Claude would keep her safe.
"Olaf wouldn't have left you the note if he wasn't going to, Anita. He may never actually approach you. He may just enjoy hunting you, watching you, stalking you and knowing that you'll never feel safe again."
"Thanks for sugar coating it for me."
"I don't believe in sugar coating things, not this sort of thing and not where you are concerned." He ran his thumb along the security code strip on the key card briefly. "Maybe you don't believe all those things I said, but they were true. I'm not so sure my life would be quite the same if you were gone."
"If I were Donna I'd be jealous hearing you say those things about someone other than me."
He smiled widely, for a moment his eyes readable and warm. His arms slid around her waist and he slid the key card into the slot on her room's door, opening it. His arms didn't move from being around her though, he merely extended a foot to keep the door propped open. "She is jealous of you," he said amused. "And you're not her."
"You don't think I'm capable of feeling jealous?"
"No, that's not what I meant. I don't think you were jealous of her, I think you were shocked at first."
"And after the shock wore off?"
"I think you just didn't like her, there was nothing menacing behind it."
"She's weak." She struggled slightly against his embrace, testing it more than anything. "Edward," she said softly her eyes meeting his.
He guided her into the room, his body pressing up against hers giving her little choice but to move backward.
"Am I frightening you," he asked as the door latched closed behind them. Instinctively, he went to the set of doors adjoining their rooms and listened on the other side before opening the door. There was no one there; he left the door open so the doorway leading to either room was open.
Edward looked at her, one brow above his blue eyes rose slightly in question. She sounded relieved. He stepped toward her, his hand cupping her cheek, taking some curls in between his fingertips. "I should be."
"You don't frighten me, Edward."
"This is different, Anita, and you know it." His voice was low with a husky tone to it that sounded foreign even to him.
"We shouldn't be doing this, Edward. One thing I've always liked about you, about us, is there was never this between us."
"Maybe I've never given much thought to losing you before now."
She laughed lightly and then stopped abruptly when she realized he was serious. She had just barely stopped laughing when he kissed her. Her head begun to spin slightly, she felt heady. So this was what it was like to kiss a human. She had forgotten what it was like. There was no attempt to possess her, no attempt to meld her mind with his, no attempt to do anything but merely kiss her. His hands caressed along the length of her spine, his fingers moving through the length of her hair. He was gentle, and Anita briefly wondered if this was Edward or Ted kissing her.
"It's been a long time since I've kissed a woman who knew me."
She looked up sharply, her lips still warm from his kiss. "How did you know I was thinking that?"
"Thinking what," he frowned slightly.
She shook her head resting her forehead against his chin. "I was just thinking which one of you it was kissing me. I've never thought of you as being a sexual being before, Edward."
"I have needs like any other man, Anita."
"Yes, well I guess I suspected somehow that the thrill of the hunt and the kill fulfilled you somehow."
He laughed, a full blown and hearty laugh. "Ah, Anita, you are so naïve sometimes. I forget that about you every once in a while." He pressed a thumb to her lips.
"I'm not that naïve, Edward. Once upon a time I was, sure."
"I don't mean in that sense of the word, Anita. I just mean that here you have been sleeping with and spending time with the Master of St. Louis and his lycanthrope friend and yet you think I'm a non-sexual being."
"Well, no, that's not really what I thought about you. I just assumed you took care of your needs like you do everything else, efficiently without thought for the other person."
"That hurts, Anita."
She smiled slightly, the pad of his thumb surprisingly smooth and gentle along her lower lip. "Sorry."
"No, you're not." His hands moved to rid him of his shirt.
"Uh, Edward, doesn't it matter whether I want to do this?"
"But you do, and I have to defend myself after all. I can't have you thinking I leave my women unfulfilled."
Anita felt the heat of a blush sweep over her and with it the heat of arousal that she had come to know well begin to sweep through her. Damn her body for betraying her in that way. It had been too long, and she had to admit Edward at least wasn't some guy she went to a bar and picked up or something. But at the same time it was Edward. Would things change between them? "You are so vein, Edward."
"Well, you didn't like Bernardo and you didn't take the cop up on his offers."
"I'm not yours to pimp out, Edward."
"I never said you were, but I still think you need to get over the monsters and come back to your own kind. We're alike you and I, so why not me? You would have hurt that poor cop anyway."
She laughed lightly. "Yes, I think I would have, which is why I stayed away from him."
"I know that, Anita, and I tried to tell him that without giving away any of your secrets."
"No problem. You never know when you may need his help somewhere down the road, it's best to leave things on good terms."
"I'm sure you had my professional interests in mind when you spoke with him."
"No, not really. I was hoping," he shrugged and kissed her again.
"I know what you were hoping, Edward," she said amused. "What about Donna?"
"What about her?"
"It's one thing to be unfaithful to her, but we know one another. Doesn't that make a difference at all?"
"Not really. I don't love her, Anita, not in that way anyway. I love her kids, there's a difference. And it's not like you're going to be coming over for Sunday barbeque or anything. Chances are you won't see her again. And chances are this won't happen again."
It would be so easy to give in mentally as her body physically seemed to have already done, but this was Edward. It was that thought that made her push away. "I can't, Edward," she whispered hoarsely, almost apologetically. Why did she feel bad? Wasn't he here to protect her? She hadn't agreed to this for any other reason, she had never led Edward on. After all, in a way, she'd still be sleeping with one of the monsters if she let him do this. At least she loved Jean-Claude and Richard in her own way she didn't love Edward, she wasn't going to marry him and he could never accept all of her.
She looked up at him, his bright blue eyes smiling at her and she felt relieved. "You're not upset?"
"No, I'm disappointed I won't deny it. I thought for a moment there you were going to go with it. It would have been good, Anita."
"I'm sure it would have been, but it's still wrong. Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire, that's what I'd be doing with you."
He smiled widely. That was it, no response otherwise to what she had just said, which made Anita feel better. He knew she was right.
"We're friends, Edward, we've never crossed that line before now and I think it's best that we don't. One day, we both know it, we may have to kill the other one. I don't know that I could shoot you with sex between us."
"That's the big difference between us, Edward, and I'm sorry, but I at least need some sort of emotion from someone if I'm going to have sex with them. I know that you respect me, but it's not enough."
He stepped toward her, his hands moving to her shoulders and he kissed her again. "I know it's not, for you. I was hoping for tonight you could put it past us. A part of me is glad to know that you didn't honestly despite my disappointment."
Anita frowned and drew back. "Give me your word, Edward, that you're not going to come in here while I'm sleeping and finish this." As soon as she'd said the words that way she regretted them and the look of hurt and disbelief on Edward's face wasn't punishment enough. She had just accused him of being a rapist. "I'm sorry, Edward, that's not what I meant. I just need to know that this is finished. That you're not going to be like Jean-Claude and push me feeling eventually I'll give in."
"That's an idea, it did work," he said with a slight lift of his lips despite the disdain and dislike he felt for the other man. He shrugged his shoulders and stepped away, going to the doorway that joined their rooms. "It's not my style, so you have nothing to worry about, Anita. No is no, and I've got enough to worry about then thinking on a daily basis whether you're going to break down and shag me."
He laughed lightly. "Yeah, I was trying to be tasteful about it."
"Oh, is that all it'd be to you, shagging?"
"I won't lie to you and say it would have been much more, but no it wouldn't have been just shagging, Anita. You're probably the one person of the opposite sex who knows the true me and still cares to call me friend. It'd be interesting to see what it's like to shag someone who knows me, all of me."
If he was trying to make her feel a little guilty it was working. She could understand what he was saying. Jean-Claude and Richard both wanted something from her, Edward did too but all Edward wanted was some genuine acceptance on every level. She would like some of that, too. The only difference was that there was parts of her Anita didn't believe Edward would ever accept.
"I suppose I shouldn't have said all this and I hope that my trying doesn't send you running in the other direction from me, Anita. I can forget this happened if you can."
"I think you can forget it happened a lot easier than I can, Edward, but that doesn't mean I can't. It just means you're far better at burying things than I am."
"It's part of my charm," he smiled wryly and turned to go to into his room. "Good night, Anita. Forgive me."
"No problem, Edward. I can forgive you for this. I'm not so sure I can forgive you for handing me over to Jean-Claude, though."
He leaned against the doorframe and peered at her, his arms crossed over his chest. "It's the only place I can think of to keep you safe while I'm out searching for clues as to where Olaf might be. I can't bring you with me, it'd be too dangerous."
"I know, Edward. I know."
"You can be strong, Anita, I know you can. Jean-Claude will leave you alone if you truly want to be left alone. That part is up to you and something only you can decide for yourself. I may not care for the man particularly much, but I know he's no more a rapist than I am. At least not sexually and not with you."
"Are you accusing him of raping me other ways?"
"Yes, he has. He talked to you in the hospital, Anita. There was no telephone in your room. There's only one way he could have communicated with you. Whatever this human servant relationship you have with him is, it's left you open to his mind probes."
"It was only because I had been hurt and unable to keep my barriers up. I haven't been involved with either of them, Edward, for months."
"I know and I believe you, I never said I thought you were being untruthful with me. But he's still in you, a part of you, in a way no other man can be. And that has ruined you I think for any others. You couldn't even take the gift I offered you in Bernardo, a chance to experience a human. And now me. It's not lack of need, Anita, I could see it in your eyes when talking to Bernardo and Ramirez, and a moment ago with me. You want to, but you're afraid or just unable."
"Well, Edward, it's kind of hard to compete with a man who's been doing this for over four hundred years and one who can shift parts of his body at will."
He rolled his eyes with a shake of his head. "That was probably more than I needed to know, but I see your point. Find a monster that I like and perhaps I wouldn't be so critical and negative. I just don't like him, he's using you."
"Oh Edward, I know why you're saying that." She sat on the edge of the bed, exhausted now. "At first that is what it was, he wanted my power and I know that. He wanted me merely because I said no to him and it had never happened to him before. But I haven't been with him in quite some time and he still worries for me, still wants me, he already has my power, has the power I bring to him by being his human servant and a part of the triumverate." She shook her head realizing Edward wouldn't understand all this talk.
"What of what Obsidian said, that you are weakening him by not having sex with him?"
She frowned slightly, hoping she wouldn't have to think on that for quite some time. She was supposed to apologize to him, beg his forgiveness but Anita wasn't sure she would go to that extreme. "I don't know," she admitted her eyes looking at him with uncertainty and a little bit of fear. "I can't stand the thought of being responsible for bringing about his downfall in any way, Edward. She might be lying."
"I don't think she was."
Anita was surprised by his response. "I don't think she was either," she admitted hoarsely. "I need to go to bed, Edward. I need to think on this without you here pushing me, guiding me. If I didn't know better I would believe you were trying to get me to go back to sleeping with Jean-Claude."
"If it would keep you safe, I think you should."
"Olaf won't know what and who he is, Anita. He doesn't believe in your world, our world. If you can make Jean-Claude stronger, enable him to protect you better and that's how you have to go about getting that strength and the offered protection it brings then do it."
"I don't believe you of all people is saying this."
"Me neither," he admitted. "Good night, Anita. Think about it. You enjoy his company, I saw the way you ordered dinner tonight even without him it was with him in mind."
"I changed my mind."
"Yes, you did, out of spite not for necessarily wanting to change it. You wanted to prove to yourself, and to him, that you could."
She rubbed her temples before removing the knives fastened at each wrist, laying them on the bed. "Good night, Edward. This is more than I can handle right now. I'll think on it, I promise."
"That's all that I ask, we have a bit of a drive ahead of us tomorrow, so think on it all you need to."
He closed the door leading from her room, leaving it ajar and retired to his own room for the night.
He returned to the room a moment later. "Does he know what you eat? Can he taste it? I mean, was there a third person enjoying our dinner together without my being aware of it?"
She blushed slightly, ashamed to admit she had let down her blocks enough to share her meal with him. She knew how much he enjoyed their meals together. "Only because I let him, yes."
"Interesting. Good night again, Anita."
"Good night, Edward."
Anita sat in the passenger seat of the SUV Edward had rented quiet and introspective. If Edward was concerned on account of the prior night's events he didn't broach the subject. He seemed content to drive and let Anita sit and stew with her thoughts. What he didn't - and couldn't - know was that Anita felt pushes at her barriers more intensely the closer they got to St. Louis. It was less than a three hundred mile drive from Chicago to St. Louis, not long enough to have prepared her for this. She shouldn't have let them down last night to share her meal with him, but had felt the need to.
"Can we stop to eat or something," Anita said her voice containing a slight pleading tone to it.
"Well, we're just entering Springfield now, so I guess we can. Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong, just that I can feel him pushing at me. I'm not sure I'm going to be strong enough to keep my blocks in place once we get closer to him, Edward," she admitted hating the thought. "I've worked so hard at getting them up, building a fortress around my mind to keep him out."
"What are you apologizing for?"
"Well, it was working until I called you down to New Mexico and you got hurt, your getting hurt allowed him to get past your barriers. It's my fault."
"Christ, Edward, it's not your fault and please don't apologize to me. I don't regret helping you with the case in the least. If this is the price I have to pay for helping stop that monster, then so be it. It is worth it, Jean-Claude won't hurt me. Many more would have died had I not helped you. This is not your fault, Edward."
"If you say so," he said guiding the SUV off the interstate at an exit that indicated there was food available.
Anita had a penchant for convenience food, but Edward didn't so he stopped where they could at least sit down and eat without having first ordered at a cash register.
Back in the car faster than Anita would have liked, she decided to try and sleep the rest of the way. Perhaps if she were sleeping she wouldn't feel Jean-Claude growing stronger in her mind as Edward drove her closer to him. He knew she was coming back to him and what frightened Anita was that this time she wouldn't be able to escape him. Even more frightening she could hear him laughing in her head when these thoughts crept through her mind. It was like he was there in a far recess despite her blocks, probing selectively and periodically letting her know that he was still there.
"What if I said I didn't want to go back to St. Louis?"
Edward glanced at her sharply, turning his attentions back to the interstate in front of them almost as abruptly as he had diverted his attention from it to look at her. "Out of the question, Anita. If I thought there was another way to keep you safe, don't you think I'd do it? Christ, I don't like the idea of you being under his control any more than you do. I sure as hell don't like the idea of you in his bed again, but if it's what you have to do, do it. It's survival of the fittest time, Babe, you need to survive. It's as simple as that."
"I was afraid you were going to say something like that."
"Yeah," she said softly and went back to staring out the window, watching the miles pass as they drove closer to St. Louis and hopefully further away from Olaf. "Where would he be? Does he know where I live or anything?"
"No, Christ, do you think I'm that stupid, Anita?"
"I was just curious. I mean can I go to my house? I'm not used to living in fear, Edward. I don't do it well and I don't follow the rules well either, you know that."
"Take Jean-Claude or one of his henchmen with you if you must, but stay at the Circus as much as you can, underground where you're safest."
She sighed heavily, her eyes drifting closed as Edward drove getting them closer to St. Louis. It was far easier to escape from this nightmare by sleeping than trying to decipher any of it logically. What would Richard think when she returned and went straight to Jean-Claude? Did she owe him an explanation? She wasn't sure, and the uncertainty of it made her head hurt. She couldn't help but realize the fewer who knew she had returned not just to St. Louis but to Jean-Claude the better off she was. Jason would know as would Asher and the others of Jean-Claude's entourage, but she didn't want everyone knowing that she was staying at the Circus. That sort of defeated the purpose of hiding. Didn't it?
Edward had said he'd call Animators, Inc. and explain to them that Anita needed time to recuperate, with or without pay she was taking the time necessary to heal. She could just imagine Bert's reaction to that! He'd be furious, but she deserved the time off no matter the reason.
The next thing Anita knew Edward was calling her name and the SUV was no longer moving. She opened her eyes and without moving her head looked out the passenger side window knew at once they were in the Circus' parking lot. She had slept for almost three hours, she had no memory of anything past Springfield, which perhaps was best.
"We're here, it's time to talk to Jean Claude."
"You go talk to him," she muttered defiantly, knowing Edward wasn't going to let her sit in the car by herself.
"Come on, Anita. Don't be difficult."
She laughed, a bitter laugh clearly depicting her mood. She wasn't amused and she damned well wanted to be difficult. Edward was delivering her to the lion's den and offering her up as a sacrifice. One of the things that had kept her safely out of Jean-Claude's bed the past few months was distance, she quite simply stayed away from him. Resisting Richard wasn't as difficult, she wasn't sure why, perhaps their connection wasn't as strong. She wasn't Richard's human servant, she was Jean-Claude's whether she liked the fact or not she couldn't deny what she was.
Knowing there was no use delaying the inevitable, she sat up straight in the seat for a moment pushing the sleep from her brain testing her barriers. Assured they were still in place, she opened the car door and stepped out, struck by the overwhelming feeling of being home. She didn't want to consider this place, Jean-Claude's club, her home. She had a house, her own place with no neighbors and yet her mind reacted to standing here in front of the Circus as if she belonged here.
She went to the secondary entrance, rapped on the door and was let in followed closely by Edward. Edward parted with his weapons hesitantly, but he knew there was no descending the Circus's stairs into Jean-Claude's lair without giving them up. And he needed to talk to him more than Anita did, Edward knew Olaf better than anyone, not that that was saying much. He needed to impart on Jean-Claude the imminent danger he felt Anita was in, the threat Olaf presented.
On top of all that Edward felt he owed Jean-Claude an apology. He had endangered Anita and if he understood this connection the two of them had by endangering Anita he had endangered Jean-Claude as well. Edward wasn't a man to ask forgiveness from anyone and his apology would not be an outright one. But he was capable of imparting his feelings to Jean-Claude without lowering himself to apologize to one of the monsters. It was necessary to keep the peace for now.
If Anita didn't care for the man, Edward wouldn't do it but she did and he knew Jean-Claude would move heaven and earth if necessary to help them. He wouldn't like to have been unintentionally responsible for Jean-Claude's death. Aside from the fact that it wouldn't have been as much fun as killing the vampire himself, Edward didn't particularly feel like being hunted by his minions. That could prove inconvenient and distract him from his work. And Anita hating him was not something Edward wanted right now, and despite what she might say Edward knew Anita still loved the master vampire.
Their weapons unloaded and left with the doorman they proceeded downstairs to where Jean-Claude waited for them. He stood, though the movement was too fluid and graceful to be called merely that and walked straight to Anita. Edward may just as well not have been there for all the attention Jean-Claude paid him. Jean-Claude took both of Anita's hands in his and kissed the backs of each one, whispering something in French that Edward could not decipher.
If Edward had any doubts as to Jean-Claude's genuinely feeling something for Anita the look of concern and relief evident in Jean-Claude's normally carefully guarded blue eyes was enough to make him believe he did at least care. Edward knew little about love, at least the love that marriages and other long-term relationships were based on, but he could swear that was visible in Jean-Claude's eyes. He had never noticed it before now and he had looked trying to read just what this creature wanted with his Anita. But it was there now, fleetingly because he masked it quickly, but Edward had seen it. Perhaps he was meant to.
"You are really all right, ma petite," he said releasing her hands and placing his well-manicured hands on either shoulder.
"Yes, I'm fine. I'll be even better once this guy is found and I don't have to be afraid of my own shadow or the boogeyman anymore."
"Ah yes, the boogeyman I am to protect you from. He must be something to reckon with if your scary yet capable friend has brought you to me for protection."
He hadn't even so much as glanced at Edward; his eyes had been focused solely on Anita. It was as if he didn't believe she was really there. Anita saw hurt there too, hurt that it took this to get her to come back to him. He was dressed casually in a pair of jeans sized just perfectly and a white shirt that may have well not been a shirt for the sheerness and scant material it offered.
Edward cleared his throat, he decided it was time for him to start. He realized he might have been interrupting an intimate, private conversation between the two via whatever path they could communicate without the use of words, but he frankly didn't care. Jean-Claude stood there looking as if he wanted to devour her, not in the scary, vampire, monster meaning of the word devour either, and Edward would just as soon not be here to witness it.
"As you know, a man I've worked with in the past who had I known I was going to call Anita into help me I would never have enlisted the help of has decided he wants Anita. I believe I can find and catch him, but until I do I believe she needs protection. He's former Army Special Forces, a sniper and assassin, and he's very good at what he does. He's good at being the wind," Edward said simply.
Jean-Claude nodded his head, his hand resting possessively at the small of Anita's back. She had tried to pull away, to put some distance between them but he wouldn't allow her to get out of arm's reach of him. He reached to the back of his head with his other hand and freed his hair from the leather thong holding it in place, letting it fall freely over his shoulders, framing his face. "I will see that she's cared for, Monsieur. You can be assured she will be protected. You've been here before both for friendly purposes and not so friendly purposes, you know the security measures I have in place."
"And while you're," Edward paused his lips curling up into a cynical smile, "resting?"
"I have the wolves to call, Monsieur. They will protect ma petite as if she were their own. In addition to the wolves, there are the leopards that are loyal to her. She will not lack for protection no matter the time of day."
"Would you two stop talking about me as if I'm the little woman who can't defend herself? Why not go out and thump your chests, skin a rabbit and make me a dress out of deer hide while you're at it?"
Jean-Claude turned to her, the back of his hand moving to stroke her cheek. Ma petite, let the two men who care for and are concerned for you sniff one another out and ensure we are on the same page. You've seen how two dominates in a pack act.
I am not part of a pack, Jean-Claude. She wasn't happy, but she'd let them talk around her if it made them feel better.
Edward stifled a laugh barely, knowing the two had exchanged thoughts somehow and then felt Jean-Claude's gaze move back to him. "Unless you hear from me that this problem is solved, it's not solved." He glanced sharply at Anita. "Stay safe, Anita. This isn't me, the thrill for him will be the stalking, the hunt, the game."
"I know," she said somberly.
He gave a slight salute and turned to leave, knowing without even having to look behind him one of the wolves was following him out.
"Ma petite, you worried me, day and night I called to you and you did not respond. I did not know if you were alive or dead."
"I'm fine, Jean-Claude. A little sore, I itch a little bit where the stitches are, but otherwise I'm fine."
"Stitches," he said, one brow rose as emphasis to his question.
"Yes, stitches. I very nearly died. I'm sure you knew that, felt it."
"I knew you were close yes, I had to feed more than usual for a while there."
"Did that help me? Can you share blood with me the way I can share food with you?"
He nodded simply.
"Damn it, Jean-Claude."
"Ah, ma petite, I did not want you to die. Forgive me this transgression please, I did not want to lose you."
"I did not come here to sleep with you, Jean-Claude."
"As you wish."
"I do wish."
"I sensed a but coming after the ‘I do wish'," Jean-Claude said with a light, lyrical laugh.
"Obsidian told me something."
"What did she tell you?"
"That by cutting you off I'm somehow weakening you."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Would it have changed your mind?"
"I don't know. I don't like the thought of being the reason you're weaker, that someone could do something to you."
"I could have gone elsewhere, Anita."
"I know you could have, but you knew that I'd just use that against you to distance myself further from you."
He nodded his head simply in agreement, the fingertips of one hand resting in the front pocket of his jeans as he leaned against the wall.
"I don't want you weak, Jean-Claude. You should have told me."
"I did not want that as the reason you came back to my bed, ma petite. I wanted you there because it's where you belong, because you desired to be there with me, under me, on top of me, with me inside of you."
She actually felt herself blush and hated herself for it, hated that his bold and suggestive words could affect her so easily. His comments were right on target. She had no complaints about Richard in that aspect, but there were times she couldn't get Marcus out of her mind.
Times that, like him accepting her monster, Anita knew she would never accept Richard's monster completely. Why she could accept Jean-Claude's better or with more ease she didn't know. Something about knowing Jean-Claude didn't devour his victims made a difference. Jean-Claude would never get carried away and eat her, she could never be totally assured of that with Richard, not until he'd learned to control his beast fully at any rate.
"Can you deny you've missed it? Being with me, and I don't mean merely sexually either."
"You know I can't."
"Then why are you so glum about being here? It's been months since I've had the pleasure of your company, ma petite. Aside from last night's brief access to you I've been cut off from you completely."
"I'd rather the choice to be here be my own not out of necessity, Jean-Claude. I don't particularly like knowing there's a lunatic serial killer out there who wants me to partner up with him."
"You do attract the most interesting kinds, Anita."
"I am uncertain if that is a question or a statement, ma petite, but I will answer it anyhow. Yes, I suppose myself included."
"It was really more rhetorical."
"I figured that, but thought I would at least acknowledge that I am one of the interesting kinds who is attracted to you."
"Did I hurt you?"
"Hurt me," he queried his voice laced with amusement.
"When I was hurt and you were able to connect with me, did I hurt you, weaken you?"
"Some, but I was more concerned with getting you well. They would not allow calls to be put through to your room, I did not know you were with Edward, and even if I had I am unsure whether he would have provided me information or not."
"I don't know if he would have or not either."
"As I did not know where you were or in what capacity you were where you were, I did not call and interrogate the doctor."
"I appreciate that, he was not too happy with me as it was I'm not sure how he would have reacted to your questions."
"I can imagine he was not, you are not a very good patient, Anita."
She glanced at him sharply and he returned her look with a polite one of his own, complete with widened smile the whites of his teeth gleaming. "I can cooperate when I have to, but there was something that had to be caught."
"Anita saves the world again," he said, a hint of pride in his voice. "No matter the cost to herself, or to the others whose lives are bound to hers."
"That was not foremost in my mind, no."
"I know, and honestly I would have it no other way, ma petite." He regarded her for a moment and Anita was not sure what to say to that. She believed him that he would not want her any other way, always putting others before herself, even he and Richard now. "Are you hungry then? It's been some time since we've shared dinner, I thought we could start our evening off that way."
"I shared with you last night."
"But ‘twas not the same as sitting across from you, ma petite, watching you as you eat what I can only taste through you."
Anita watched as he closed the distance between them. He touched her shoulders and skimmed his hands along the length of each arm to her hands. "I am glad you are all right, Anita. The threat to my life withstanding."
She did not want to believe him, wanted to believe that only the selfish part of him was glad she had lived. That part of him that was not ready to relinquish his place in the world just yet. But at the same time she could sense he was telling the truth. "I know and thanks."
"There is no need to thank me for worrying about you, ma petite. But as I know how difficult it is for you to say these things I will graciously accept and say you are most welcome."
Anita saw his head dip towards hers and despite her efforts to stay away from Jean-Claude she had no desire to stop him from kissing her. After the brief intimacy shared with Edward the prior night, she almost felt as though she needed it. Needed him. His lips found hers, bold and yet hesitant as if despite his confidence in his ability he was unsure if his advance would be welcome.
She felt the wall at her back and for the briefest of moments the stitches there were forgotten as she slid her arms up along the wall that was in front of her, his chest. She groaned softly, not out of arousal but from the rude reminder of her stitches when her arms had exceeded the limits of how far they would allow her to stretch without revolting from the activity.
Jean-Claude drew away from her, smiling slightly as two of her fingertips toyed with the tie at his shirt. Anita wondered if he had worn it purposely knowing she would be here tonight. It was almost sheer and a good portion of his chest was visible because the tie that was supposed to be fastened was undone.
"It is not me making you sound as if you are in pain I hope?"
She lifted her head to look him in the eyes, something she was accustomed to doing given their difference in height. A finger strayed from the piece of fabric that was the shirt's lace and grazed his bare chest underneath the lacing. "No. It's my back."
"This man who is after you, did he hurt you?"
"No, in fact it was what he witnessed me doing that has endeared him to me. He thinks we are alike, that I am a cold blooded killer with no remorse who would kill anyone for sport." Her hand dropped from his chest, she raised her head slightly higher to meet his gaze dead on. "Is that how people see me, Jean-Claude? Once upon a time I would have scoffed at him and told him he was crazy for thinking that way about me. But now," she sighed softly.
Gratefully, she walked into Jean-Claude's offered embrace and allowed him to guide her through the doorway into his sleeping chambers. She did not have it in her to offer a fight just now, in fact if she wanted to face facts she welcomed his comfort.
"Now," she continued sitting herself on the edge of the bed. She smiled, bowing her head as Jean-Claude proceeded to undress her, the act more paternal than romantic and she was glad that he seemed to understand what she needed right now. And what she didn't as well.
"But now, I have come so far from the woman you first knew. She was really only a girl in a woman's body. And I don't know whether or not I like myself and what I have become."
"Ah, ma petite, I love what you have become. All of it, and would not have it any other way. Gone is the young woman who would not have given me a second look."
"I always looked twice, Jean-Claude. It was never a question of not looking at you, or not seeing you to be more specific."
"And yet you did what no other has done."
"Continually said no."
"I wonder if I would have been so easy as the others to give into your charms if we would be sitting here right now."
"Perhaps you are right, ma petite, perhaps you are right." He guided her to lie back on the bed once he had unlaced her shoes and slid them and her socks off. Next came her black jeans, jeans he had helped her out of more than once for entirely different purposes. Anita's breath caught when she felt his thumb graze her hip where the fabric of her panties stopped.
"I do have the strength to undress myself, but I kind of like that you are doing it."
"If your back is that sore, ma petite, that you cannot place your arms around my neck where they belong then I have no qualms about playing servant to you for the evening and undressing you. Turn over and let me look at your back. Perhaps I have some salve I can put on the wounds to help the healing and stop the pain."
"What are you an herbologist?"
He laughed and Anita could not help but laugh, too. "Nay, ma petite, but I have had reason on occasion to see to the comfort of others."
"I'm sure you have," she replied wryly not liking the idea at all of him seeing to anyone else's comfort. Of course, when one was dealing with a man who was over four hundred years old one had to accept the fact that he would have plenty of opportunity to see to another's comfort.
Jean-Claude returned to her side with some salve to put on her back as well as a covering for her back that would enable her to lie without having clothes completely on. "Oui, ma petite, but none were you, so there is a difference."
"I hope so," she murmured sighing at his administrations. He was tender with her, his fingertip gentle as he applied the salve. She could feel, yes feel, the anger and fury boiling up in him with each application of the salve to a new and more tender part of her back. She had not bothered to look in a mirror since leaving the hospital, but she was quite sure his reaction was a pretty honest and accurate one. Her back looked like hell and Jean-Claude was pissed as hell that someone had caused it, inadvertently or not.
Anita didn't pray much, but she prayed like hell that Edward found Olaf before Jean-Claude did. Edward would try to reason with the man, get him to see that Anita wasn't suited for him the way Olaf believed she was. If that did not work, Anita had no false impressions about it, Edward would kill him. But Jean-Claude would kill without inquisition, without hesitation, without reason just because he knew Olaf's name and that Olaf was after Anita.
Edward paced the length of Anita's living room. Jason was there as was Nathaniel and a couple other of Anita's leopards, two women. One was cute, it was too bad she was a lycanthrope. She was also a nurse as it turned out and she had chastised Edward for bringing Anita to Jean-Claude instead of her house. As if Edward knew Anita had her own nurse on hand.
There had been a note when Edward arrived at Anita's house, a note accompanied by a lush, deep red rose. Since Jean-Claude was aware that Edward was bringing Anita to the Circus, Edward felt reasonably safe in assuming the note was not from Jean-Claude. Richard was a possible sender of the note, but Edward did not believe Anita had informed Richard of her return.
Cherry, the nurse, had been offended that Edward would open Anita's mail. Edward had assured the lady that Anita would not mind in this particular instance. He was not too keen on reading a love letter to Anita from her undead or werewolf boyfriend anyway, so if he saw the note was in fact not from Olaf he would fold it up and put it away unread.
One look at the handwriting told Edward it was Olaf. The man wrote about as well as you would expect someone like him to write. The note was short and to the point. "A blood red rose to match your thirst for blood." He was tempted to crumple the note up, but refrained. Anita would need to see it for herself.
"Throw the rose out," he demanded. "I'm going to check the house." Chances were he would try and get her here where she should feel safest. He removed his leather jacket and handed it to one of her pet leopards expectantly. The girl would know where to put the jacket. The other woman took it, the one not nearly as friendly as the nurse was, and disappeared in a huff apparently not pleased to act as coat check girl.
"All right, who else but me is part of the defensive unit," he asked. Jason and Nathaniel looked from one another to Edward and Edward sighed softly. "Do you at least know how to fire a gun?" The question was met with two heads shaking in the negative. "Fuck it all," he muttered under his breath.
"We could shift and prowl the perimeter."
"He knows about lycanthropes, Nathaniel," Edward said with a surprising tone of admiration for the man. He was loyal to Anita and willing to put his life on the line, this was good. "It was a good thought, though. I don't think Anita would like to know I willingly and knowingly let you go out there."
The look on Nathaniel's face, one of awe, fear and gratitude made Edward realize he had provided the lycanthrope with some sort of right answer. Whatever the question was, Edward did not rightly care and he did not make it a point to make a lycanthrope's day. Whatever the young man's problems were, Edward was not here to be his shrink or his helper. He was here to bag himself a serial killer before it bagged the one woman Edward loved.
"What," he challenged, drawing his gun when he heard the low rumbling in Jason's throat.
"Nothing," the wolf said. Edward was quite certain it was not nothing. Could the werewolf read his thoughts? Or was he merely picking up on something that Edward exhibited outwardly when it came to Anita. Surely the werewolf realized that Edward loved Anita, just not in the romantic, flowery sense of the emotion.
"Right," he mumbled, holstering his gun in a fluid movement.
"Why didn't Anita call us," Cherry asked.
"There was no time. And I told you she agreed with me that she was safer with Jean-Claude at the Circus."
"You don't think we would protect her with every fiber of our beings?"
"Yes, I do believe that. But I know this man where you do not. And I do not believe every fiber of your beings would work against him." He stood, towering over Jason. He had to look disheveled, scraggly and perhaps a little menacing after driving all day and a mostly sleepless night the night before. In truth, he hoped they were frightened of him if for no other reason than to bring home his point. He accentuated that point with his next words. "He scares me," Edward said simply.
And it seemed to work. Jason, Nathaniel and Cherry backed off and Edward went to Anita's kitchen to make some coffee. Someone came into the room after him. He sensed it was one of the two women but did not know it was the nurse until he turned to face her, coffee cup in hand. "Are we in danger here?"
"I don't think so," Edward said setting the cup down on the counter to wait for the maker to do its thing. "I think he knows to hurt anyone Anita cares for would be foolish on his part, it would drive her away from him rather than to him. He wants her to join him."
"This is so creepy," Cherry admitted.
"And it's my fault she's in this creepy mess, thus the reason I'm here with the four of you while she's holed up with her undead lover. Neither are scenarios I dream up while in bed nights. No offense," he added offhandedly.
"None taken," she said just as flippantly.
"Listen, I'm not here to win any nice guy awards."
"That's good, because even if I was handing them out you would not get one. You called her away from here. She left us without telling us where she was going or why. The only thing we heard was of Jean-Claude's brief connection with her and then she was gone. All he could tell us was that she was terribly weak. You put her in danger."
"Not intentionally. Listen, she owed me one. It's the way Anita and I work. I saved her neck once. Just ask her, or don't you care about that. Maybe you'd rather I passed the contract up and just gone about my merry way, not telling her about it. Oh, but wait I forgot you weren't around for that ordeal." He shook a finger at her, as if scolding a child. "Don't pass judgment on me. I answer to myself and no one else with the exception perhaps of Anita. She understands me, I understand her. If she's not mad at me you nor any of her other little pets have reason to be angry at me either."
Cherry placed her hands at her hips, making fists with them and Edward could not help but laugh. "I just don't like to see her hurt. You're right, I haven't always been around and I don't know much about you, but I know enough and have heard enough to know that where you are trouble, blood, gore and death usually follow."
"That's right, sweetheart. They call me ‘Death', there's a reason for that."
"Yes, I've heard about Death and his reputation among my kind. How Anita can be friends with you and remain loyal to us I don't claim to understand."
"You don't have to understand it, she's your leader, your protector, your champion. It's not your place to question her."
"That's not to say I have to like it," Cherry said.
"You've got balls," Edward said turning his back to her to look in the refrigerator for milk or cream for his coffee. "It's nice to know she's got a woman around who cares about her. Up until you all I've ever seen is men."
"Hardly. Anita and I we aren't like that. I don't even know that you'd call what we have a friendship. I just like knowing she's not surrounded by a bunch of preternatural men."
"I'm a preternatural woman."
He turned around carefully, studiously assessing her. "I'm well aware of your gender, Cherry. I'm not blind and despite the Death nickname, I am human and I am very much alive."
"You smell like her," she said after she had sniffed.
"That's what I get for spending the last twenty-four hours with her in rather close quarters." Edward was not sure Cherry believed him, but he did not really care. He and Anita had done nothing wrong. "Should anyone call or come by, Anita is still out of town."
"They're going to notice a strange car is in the driveway."
"Sure, I drove here looking for any clues when I found out she never came back from down south."
"Sounds plausible," Cherry said, a hint of doubt in her voice.
"It's the best I can do under the circumstances. You here in this house and the few employees at the Circus who saw us tonight are the only people who know Anita's returned. I want to keep it that way."
"I'll do whatever I can." Her voice was soft, barely audible, but the emotion and sincerity in her voice came through loud and clear.
"Good. I'm going to take watch I guess. Maybe you can go and get ready in her room, he would see a woman's figure silhouetted."
"Sure, though Nathaniel's probably already asleep in the bed anyway." He glanced at her sharply, quizzically at that statement. She purred, a low purr and he was reminded that she was in part a large cat. "That's where we sleep," she replied saucily and then sauntered out of the room. Edward rolled his eyes, but watched her go as he imagined the point was. She was not as outwardly sensual as the other woman here was, she had been hurt Edward could detect her hesitancy toward him and suspected it was because he was a man she did not know. But still she moved in such a way that was seductive however unintentionally.
He walked through the lower level of the house, turning off lights and checking windows and doors. He was surprised to see a wolf positioned by the back door and a leopard by the front door. A scathing comment was probably appropriate, but Edward was impressed at the loyalty these beings showed Anita. Loyalty was something Edward could understand and respect, human or not. She was not pard or pack yet they still seemed willing to risk their lives for her.
He ascended the steps after his walk through of the lower level and almost tripped over yet another leopard at the head of the stairs. He reached down to pat the leopard's head appreciatively despite knowing the animals were doing this for her not for him. A flick of the leopard's tongue over the back of his hand was his reward for the display of affection and Edward continued on to ensure the windows up here were locked and secured.
Jason was on the floor by Anita's window in wolf form. Edward knew it was Jason without question and nodded his head in acknowledgement of the wolf. His attention then rested on the bed where Nathaniel lay shirtless, sound asleep, and looking very at home in Anita's bed.
Cherry stepped out of the bathroom apparently finished getting ready for bed. "I can sleep downstairs," she whispered, having glanced from the bed to Edward.
"Uh, no, that's fine. I'm not really going to sleep anyway. You both sleep in here?" he asked and knew he probably sounded like a prude just then. It really was not his concern what, or who, Anita did.
"Well, yeah, but not how you think, we just sleep, that's how the pard is."
He glanced at Nathaniel's half-nude body and sensed somehow Cherry was telling the truth. "Hey, not that it's any of my business."
"Maybe not, but I know Anita wouldn't like you thinking that about her."
"I'm not her father and I'm not her husband, so it really makes me no difference what Anita does. If she truly cared about what I thought she would not be involved with the two men she has been involved with of late." Apparently, she had no reply to that. "Listen, I'm not here to argue with you or judge Anita's lifestyle. I'm here to see that she has the ability to live out her life whatever lifestyle choices she makes be damned. I'm going to be walking around the house, there's a lycanthrope in his animal form at both entrances downstairs, one at the head of the stairs and you've got Jason in here, so I think you can assume any moving around that is not accompanied by a gunshot is me. If he gets past four lycanthropes and me, then you can tell Anita I failed horribly."
"Okay," Cherry said and crawled into bed beside Nathaniel. The male lycanthrope seemed to notice her presence in the bed, but he merely shifted and sighed like a contented cat. "Good night."
"Night," he said retreating from the room and back downstairs. He hated this part of the game, the waiting. Acting as sentry for a bunch of preternatural beings was not his idea of fun. He went to the kitchen intent on pouring himself a cup of the freshly made coffee, pleased when he saw the wolf at the door was at attention until he saw who it was entering the room.
Edward would need coffee and lots of it to stay awake tonight, driving all day with Anita was exhausting. He knew she did not want to come back here, did not want him to take her to Jean-Claude but really Edward just saw no other alternative. He had endangered Anita once already and refused to put her in harm's way again. True, taking her with him while he hunted for Olaf would probably be the quickest way to resolve the problem, because Olaf would go wherever Anita was. But Edward wanted the safest thing done not the quickest in this instance. Anita Blake would not die on his watch, not because of something he had done to put her in harm's way.
Anita woke and shifted on the bed, instinctively seeking out Jean-Claude. She had no idea what time it was, but she had requested he remain in the bed last night. He had protested not believing she was ready to wake up next to his sleeping form beside her. She assured him she was ready and would not panic when she woke to find him sleeping the sleep of the undead.
She sat up slowly, visions of a relaxing bath in the huge tub of his until she remembered her stitches. "Damn stitches always get in the way of my having some fun," she murmured under her breath. Clutching the sheet unnecessarily in front of her, given it was just she and Jean-Claude in the room, she took a moment to appraise him.
He did, in fact, look dead. There was no movement of his chest, as he did not breathe. There was no expulsion of breath from his mouth either, again because he did not breathe. His eyes did not move beneath his eyelids because he did not dream. It was difficult to see him like this, but she liked having him here better than lying in a coffin in another room.
She padded into his bathroom to relieve herself, sponged off with a washcloth, brushed her teeth, and brushed her hair before returning to the sleeping chamber to dress. She would not be leaving the Circus until Edward claimed it was safe, so she slid on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt with a picture of penguin on it.
As presentable as she was going to get she left Jean-Claude's room to see about coffee and breakfast. A woman, one of Jean-Claude's employees Anita assumed, was there apparently waiting for her because the woman offered Anita a smile once she realized Anita was in the main room.
"You must be Anita," she said in perfect, unaccented English. The woman was human, at least none of Anita's preternatural warnings were going off around her.
"I am Anita," she said simply. She did not know this woman, which was not surprising given she had been away from Jean-Claude for almost six months now.
"I'm Sheryl. I'm here to keep you company and get you anything you might need from outside."
"Do you work for Jean-Claude?" Anita asked, a twinge of jealousy at the thought of this woman working so closely with him that he trusted her to look after Anita while he rested.
"I am Asher's," she said simply.
"Asher's what? His human servant?" Anita asked confused. Asher should not have been able to have a human servant given his lack of master status.
"No, I," she blushed deeply.
"Oh," Anita said with a slight nod, realization dawning on her. Asher had found himself a human to be his source of sustenance, something she had never allowed Jean-Claude to do with her. Hopefully, the girl did not have delusions of Asher falling in love and taking her as his woman. As much as Anita would love to see Asher with someone, Anita knew he was still too vulnerable to do that. And she did not think that Asher would love someone who let him feed off of her. Perhaps she was overestimating him, she did not really know. "Well, I really just want some coffee and some breakfast right now. Would you care to join me?"
"Sure," she said. She turned and walked in the direction of the kitchen and Anita followed, assessing the woman before her. She was older than Anita was, in her thirties, and was attractive in a librarian sort of way. Her auburn hair was pinned back in a bun and she wore glasses, which did not take away from her bright green eyes. "Asher hasn't told me much of anything other than I am to see to your needs as if you were he while he rested."
"Uh, that's great and I appreciate it, but if you have things to do don't let me stop you."
"No, I don't really," she said as if she expected Anita to confide in her. As if, Anita was not even sure she would call Ronnie right now and confide in her. Ronnie would not be pleased that Edward had left Anita in Jean-Claude's care.
"Just so long as I'm not keeping you from a job or anything."
"I work at Guilty Pleasures."
"Oh?" Anita said, her voice rising in question at the statement. "I thought you were human."
"I am," she said simply. "I just serve drinks."
"Ah," Anita said simply, though she still had to wonder how she got the job. Then again, Jean-Claude did not discriminate and the woman was attractive, perhaps she helped business. Jean-Claude would probably find it amusing in a twisted sort of way to keep the Guilty Pleasures clientele guessing as to who was human and who was not.
Overall, the day was dull. Sheryl was nice, but after a while Anita made her way back to Jean-Claude's chamber and laid down next to him for a nap. It was a little disconcerting to go to sleep next to what was essentially a corpse, but she had told him she could handle it and wanted to prove to him she could.
Sunset came and Anita woke from her nap to Jean-Claude nuzzling her neck, kissing her pulse point causing her heart to race. He chuckled lightly and she sighed, extremely peeved that he knew what her reaction to him was. "Good evening, ma petite. You did not sleep the day away, did you?"
"No," she said sleepily. She had, against her better judgment, taken one of the painkillers the doctor had prescribed for her because her back had begun to itch like mad. Hopefully, she had not rubbed her back raw while she slept. "I was up for a while, had breakfast and lunch with Sheryl."
"Ah yes, you met, I should have introduced you last night but it slipped my mind due to my concern for you."
"You took care of me," she said softly, offering him a smile.
"Of course I did, ma petite, did you doubt I would?"
"No," she said with a shake of her head, her eyes wide from watching him, taking in his appearance. Six months had been too long and yet at the same time not long enough. He was still by far the most stunning person she had ever had the pleasure of knowing.
As if sensing her thoughts, or perhaps it was because her gaze had drifted to and stopped at his lips, he kissed her. Her heart hammered violently against her ribs as she eagerly, too eagerly, returned his kiss. A hand slid to her hair, his fingers ran through it before resting his fingers against her scalp, his palm against her cheek. "I would take care of you all of the time if you would but allow me, ma petite."
"I know," she whispered. It had been far too long since she had been on the receiving end of a Jean Claude kiss. She hated that he ended it so soon, hated even more that she wanted him to kiss her again.
"What did you do with your day, ma petite?"
"Nothing besides go a little stir crazy," she admitted wryly and he laughed, his blue eyes softening.
"Yes, I can imagine this is going to be a difficult time for you. I took it upon myself to hire a cook to prepare your evening meals while you are here, ma petite."
"You did, huh? I have a feeling you have selfish motives there."
"You know me too well. I don't particularly care to share Big Mac's and French fries with you."
"So then, what's on the menu for tonight," she said unable to resist taking some of his hair in between her fingertips. She wrapped the strands around her index finger, unable to get over the softness of his hair or how beautiful it was. This man had hair that most women would get jealous about. There were some things about Jean-Claude that were just too unfair. His beauty was one of them.
"I do not know, I gave him a list of some of my favorites as well as yours and left it to his discretion."
"Does he know it's me that's actually going to be doing the eating?"
"You are asking if he knows I am not human and do not eat. The answer is yes, he knows, ma petite. I would not invite someone in here to cook for you that I did not trust."
"Right," she said feeling stupid for not having thought of that. "Of course you wouldn't."
His thumb stroked the pulse point at the right side of her neck and her eyes drifted closed almost automatically in response to his gentle touch. "Did you want to get dressed and join the living then, ma petite? Or did you have more private activities in mind for the evening?" he queried in his honey sweet voice that could seduce a bug right into a spider's web.
She was here because it was safe not to have sex with him she reminded herself. "Private is good," she found herself saying despite her mind's cautionary reminder. She heard Obsidian's words in the back of her mind and hated to think she might be the cause of this man being weak. If there was one thing she had learned from her dealings with Jean-Claude and his Council and others it was that others already saw him as weak and would forever challenge his status.
"Are you sure, ma petite? It is not the painkillers talking is it?"
She took a deep breath, thankful that he was giving her a chance to back out. She shook her head accompanied with a soft, "I can't guarantee with the stitches and all how much of a participant I'll be."
"Then we will wait, ma petite. I do not want anything to stand in our way."
"Sorry," she said softly.
"Do not apologize to me, Anita. The fact that you are here and did not say no is enough to give me hope. Have you let Monsieur Zeeman know you are back in town?"
"No," she said simply and knew that admission pleased him. "Edward thought it best I tell as few as possible that I'm back. I don't know that he trusts Richard to keep a secret under pressure, like where I'm hiding out."
"And he trusts me?"
"I trust you, Jean-Claude," she whispered. "You have a club full of people here who would stop Olaf if he tried to hurt you."
"And you don't think Richard's pack would do the same for him?"
"I honestly don't know. Some, like Jason, would, of course, but others I suspect might think the pack is better off with Richard gone and a new alpha in place."
"You are an astute woman, ma petite, even if you do not understand exactly how the pack works."
"Thanks," she said, not sure if he was talking down to her or being sincere.
"Are you ready to get dressed then and see about dinner? I do not know what else you care to do with your evening, ma petite, but if it is in my power to give it to you I will."
"I'm kind of hoping Edward will come by and let me know he found Olaf and I can go home."
"Is staying with me such a bother, ma petite?"
"No, Jean-Claude, that's not what I meant, but I've been gone for a while and I'd like to see my house, my bed, my leopards."
"Ah yes, Nathaniel, Gregory, and Cherry have missed you terribly and have been worried for you. When I told Jason I was able to connect with you last week they were glad but then not so glad when they still did not hear from you."
"Thank you for telling them," she said sincerely, hating that so many people were worrying about her. She was not used to having so many people care about her, Ronnie until she became involved with Richard had been the extent of Anita's friends. Bert cared, but only if it meant decreasing profits for Animators, Inc.
"You are welcome, ma petite. They are loyal to you, you are their leader, their savior."
"That's a tall order," she said sitting up once he had moved from the bed.
"But one I know you can handle, Anita. You will be reunited with your leopards soon enough, ma petite. I am confident Edward will let them know you are all right and that he will bring them here to see you if he feels it's safe to do so."
He walked to the closet that had been set aside as hers months ago and opened the closet doors. "You will indulge me this evening since we do not have to go anywhere." There was no hint of question or doubt in his voice, it was a statement of fact, an expectation he had for her.
"As long as I can wear my knives and hide my gun I'll indulge you, Jean-Claude."
He shook his head, obviously exasperated at her unwillingness to go unarmed even around his compound beneath the well-guarded Circus. But Jean-Claude knew that Anita was able to work her way into the Circus despite the security. He pulled out a floor length formal gown, ivory in color, obviously silk even from where she stood with some lace accenting the neckline and the slit along the left leg. "This should do nicely."
As much as she balked against the idea of Jean-Claude dressing her like a doll she had to admit the dress was beautiful and she had missed wearing the nice clothes he had a penchant for. She walked toward him and discarded the sweat pants and T-shirt she currently wore and changed her underwear to a pair of ivory bikinis that matched the color of the gown. She was not wearing a bra as the strap irritated her back too much. She then lifted her arms as high as she could without the stitches pulling to the point of pain and allowed him to slide the gown in place. The plunging décolleté was tame compared to the back of the gown, which was two thin straps of material criss crossing across her upper back leaving the rest of her back bare. Had she worn normal underwear instead of bikinis the tops of her panties might have been visible the gown left so much of her back exposed. "Did you have a taller woman in mind when you bought this dress?" she queried as she glanced at herself in the mirror.
"What?" he asked an almost violent edge to his voice.
"It was a joke, Jean-Claude. It's just that if I were an inch taller I'd be exposed."
"Well, that's the wonderful thing about knowing you and your measurements so intimately, ma petite."
"You had this made for me?" she asked incredulously as she glanced at herself in the mirror.
"Of course, ma petite," he said stepping up behind her. It was still strange to be looking in a mirror, knowing he was right there behind her but only seeing her own reflection. He kissed her left shoulder and then her right before placing both of his hands on the spots he had kissed.
"What are you wearing?" she queried, glancing over a shoulder at him.
"Do you really want to know? Or can I surprise you?"
"If I didn't know better I'd think you have something planned for us this evening. Are you taking us somewhere?"
"Nay, ma petite, but I am not a man to refuse an opportunity such as this one."
"And what kind of opportunity is that?"
"I have you back and I plan to do what I can to ensure that once this cretin is caught you will not run from me."
"You do, huh?"
"I have missed you, Anita," he whispered, the words felt against her ear more than heard.
"I've missed you, too," she admitted, her eyes drifting closed. She hated admitting such a thing, hated that she did in fact miss him.
"And Richard?" he asked the back of his hand sliding a light, shiver eliciting path along the length of her arm to her side and hip.
"No," she whispered, watching his hand trace a path along the silk gown.
"No?" he asked, sounding truly surprised.
She thought for a moment, her answer a moment ago had been automatic but she had to think about why she felt that way. And she did feel that way. She missed Richard, sure, but in a different way than she missed Jean-Claude. She missed Richard like she missed a friend, she missed their outings together, but there was something missing. She did not know what it was, but whatever it was it kept her coming to Jean-Claude and yet when she was with Jean-Claude she did not seem to miss anything.
"Not in the same way," she said simply. "I consider Richard a friend and would like to be his friend, but don't think it's possible for us to do. And when he finds out I came back to town to you without even telling him the possibility of friendship will diminish greatly."
"Does that bother you, ma petite?"
"I don't know, in a way. Ronnie and I are becoming distant, too."
"Ah, yes, Mademoiselle Simms, she prefers Richard to me, yes?"
"Yes," Anita admitted begrudgingly. She would never have said that to Jean-Claude outright like this, but he asked the question.
"And it has caused a rift between you two?"
"Well, yeah, and I've just been busy working out my stuff," she shrugged. "And I realized she was not going to be unbiased in her views."
"My Anita, all alone these past months. But Monsieur Edward I'm sure was there to comfort you."
"He offered me some distraction when he called me down there, but beyond that I don't know what you're suggesting, Jean-Claude. Edward and I are not like that."
"Violence is a comfort to you, Anita. Where some people might overeat or overimbibe or whatever else, you take to violence."
"You make me sound like a sociopath, Jean-Claude."
"You protect the innocent, ma petite, that is hardly the behavior of a sociopath." He walked to his set of closets and proceeded to change without giving her warning. Not that she did minded looking at his body, quite the contrary. He dressed in a pair of black trousers and an ivory shirt so sheer that only his cuffs and collar stood in the way from his upper body being completely exposed. She took in his pale skin visible beneath the shirt and caught her breath audibly. He smiled in appreciation at her outright appraisal of him. "Are you ready to eat then, ma petite?" he asked, a wolfish, rakish grin on his face. If Anita did not know better she would think she was on tonight's menu.
Edward spent the morning just after sunrise checking the perimeter of the woods bordering Anita's house and saw no signs that Olaf had been there during the night. Apparently, Stephen and Gregory had not heeded his warnings because he saw fresh wolf and leopard tracks, but no human tracks other than his own. Olaf was smart enough to cover his tracks, but there were no signs of the trees being disturbed by a human sized being.
He turned around from having checked the west side of the house's exterior for any signs that Olaf had been there and practically walked into the other lycanthrope woman. "Can I help you?" he asked. Cherry and the others in the house Edward could find it in himself to be cordial to during this ordeal, but this one had bitch written all over her. She had not asked one question about Anita and had expressed no interest in what was going on.
"I was just wondering what you were doing," the blonde said.
"Just checking things out before I go on my way."
"You're leaving," she practically shrieked.
"I've got a job to do, sitting immobile is not going to see it done."
"She's not worth it, you know?"
"Who's not worth what?"
"Anita. She's not worth dying for."
"Oh really," Edward asked, crossing his arms over his chest. "And you've come to this conclusion how exactly?"
"As am I, sweetheart, your preaching to the wrong choir if that's the sermon you've chosen for the day."
"Yeah, but you're Death. Why do you care?"
Edward's hand was around her neck, wrapped around her throat tightly so quickly she did not have time to react. "Is this how you repay her hospitality? How you repay her offer of protection?"
"I don't need her protection," the blonde spat.
"Oh really," he hissed, squeezing tighter. "Then why, pray tell, are you here?" She swallowed hard, Edward could feel her throat working at the juncture between his thumb and his index finger. "Oh, was that a stumper, honey? Is the test too hard for you?"
"Is there a problem here," Cherry interrupted, looking more than a little angry.
Edward released the blonde and shoved her away from him in repulsion. She fell to the ground and propped herself up on her elbows apparently trying to get up again until he strode up to her. People like her made Edward sick. He bent down as if to talk to her, drew a knife from his boot and held it against her throat. The blade was silver, and he loved seeing the flicker of fear in her eyes as their eyes met. If there was any doubt if she was dealing with Ted, Edward or Death it was quickly and wordlessly answered. "Get away from me and stay out of my sight. If I find out that anything happened to Anita while she is under my protection I will come back for you and you will find out just why it is that your kind fear Death," he said hovering over her, his lethalness conveyed with far more than mere words. "I don't care if it's a hangnail that kills her," he clarified. "So you'd best hope that Anita has a very uneventful time of it until my job is done."
"Edward," Cherry said, drawing him out of his darker self. It was the first time she had addressed him by his name.
He regarded her, the blonde still in his peripheral vision, the blade still at her throat. "Yes, Cherry?"
"Leave Elizabeth alone."
"Elizabeth, is it? Thank you, now I have a name to go with the face and now I know I can find her if it comes down to it. And don't think I won't. You all stay here at Anita's invitation because she's kind enough to take you in and offer you sanctuary." He stood after sliding the knife back into his boot. "You let her talk like this in Anita's home?" he asked Cherry.
"It's not my place to discipline her," Cherry said. As if that was a suitable explanation.
"Fine. It doesn't appear that he has been here, so I'm going to have to head out and see if I can't find him."
"You're leaving?" Cherry asked as Elizabeth stood and stormed off. Apparently, Edward's knife had scared her. Good.
"That's the same thing she said. Yes, I'm leaving. I'm going to see if I can't find him and talk some sense into him before he actually brings the game here to St. Louis."
"But he's already brought it here, he left the flower and note."
"Yes, he did, but he more than likely left when he saw she did not come home and will regroup. He'll lay low until he believes Anita thinks it is safe to return home and then come back, assuming I'll be gone by then."
"What are we dealing with here exactly?"
"A man," Edward said simply.
"Just a human?"
"Not just a human, but he is human, yes."
"Will you be back? What do we do while you're gone?"
"I'll be back eventually, I'm sure, I always come back. St. Louis draws me, it's like a magnet," he said with a shrug. "As far as what to do while I'm gone, just don't tell anyone she's back. No one. I hate that Stephen and Jason know she's back, because they could go back to Richard and the pack and let it slip, but I think they're loyal enough to her - and to Jean-Claude - not to do that. But, no one else can know. Anyone calls for her, she's not here and that's all you know. I'll talk to her boss at Animators, so that will be taken care of. Her friend, the blonde private investigator."
"Ronnie," Cherry offered.
"Yeah, that's it, I'll take care of her, too, before I go."
"Are we going to be safe? What if he comes to the house tonight, knowing you're gone?"
"I don't know, but I can't just sit here. It's not the way I work."
"Right," she said wryly.
"Any of you afraid to be here, then go somewhere else. That's all I can tell you. I could offer to teach some of you how to fire a gun, but I don't have enough time to teach you properly and I have no extra weapons on me. Well, no legal ones at any rate, and I wouldn't feel right giving you Anita's weapons."
"I think we'll be fine, but I'll let the others know that if they want to go they can."
"Keep an eye on her, I don't trust her," he said with a gesture of his head toward the house. There was no other woman but Elizabeth he could be talking about as she and Cherry were the only two women at the house currently.
"I will," she said, lowering her head almost embarrassed.
"Does she even know where Anita is?" Edward asked and saw the surprise in Cherry's eyes when she lifted her head to look at Edward once again.
"So you don't trust her either then. Good," he said simply. "Are you all okay for supplies and stuff at the house? Food and what not?" he asked walking toward the house. It was time to go. It was going to be a good fourteen-hour drive to where he was going and he wanted to get going now.
"Yeah, we're fine."
He collected his bags from where he had set them down the night before. He had slept for a couple of hours the night before, but he did not need too much sleep when he was on the hunt. He slung one bag over his shoulder by its strap while he carried the other two with both hands. "Well, I guess this is good bye for now. I'll call if I have any news for you, otherwise, assume the status has not changed." His eyes fell on Jason. "Walk with me," he said simply, it was not a command but it was not merely a request either.
Edward walked with Jason out to the rental Jeep, placing his bags in the backseat and then turned to face Jason. "I don't normally concern myself with the feelings or thoughts of lycanthropes, but if you have a problem withholding information from Richard now is the time to tell me and go on home."
"I'm fine. I probably shouldn't be, but my loyalties run more to Anita and Jean-Claude than Richard."
"Because they've proven that's where your loyalties should lie," Edward said simply. "I'd like you to stay at the house as much as you can. Between you, Gregory and Stephen I think you should be okay. I don't know Nathaniel, but he does not seem strong enough."
"Not emotionally, no," Jason agreed, seeming to know what Edward was driving at. "I'll stick around, don't worry. But for Anita and the others, not for you."
"I won't talk to anyone at the house but you or Cherry, I trust the both of you, and I expect what information I tell the two of you only to be shared between you."
"Are you going to tell Anita you're leaving?"
"I'm not going to the Circus to tell her. I'll call her, though," he said simply and got into the Jeep without a good bye and drove away, heading back the way he had just come the other day, back through Chicago and then north. He had to start searching for Olaf somewhere, and there was one place Edward knew of where Olaf might go to lay low for a while.
It was after ten o'clock that night when Edward pulled into the town of under twelve thousand, too late for him to do any good surveillance on the lake house Olaf used in the area occasionally. He checked into a hotel that had a restaurant located right next door where he got himself some dinner. He walked across the street to a local bar where he got himself a gin and tonic before placing a call from his cell phone to the Circus.
"Jean-Claude please," he said.
"May I tell him who's calling?"
"Mister Forrester," he replied evenly.
"Please hold," was the response.
Edward waited for longer than he normally would have for Jean-Claude to come to the telephone, but then again he could not come up with another instance he would have reason to telephone Jean-Claude. "Monsieur Forrester," came the master vampire's smooth voice.
"I just wanted you to know that I left St. Louis and am now searching for our friend."
"Do keep in touch, Monsieur Forrester."
"You know I will," he replied dryly. Jean-Claude knew full well that once Anita was safe Edward would call immediately so that Anita would get away from the Circus and Jean-Claude.
"I will reimburse you for any expenses you incur on this little outing."
"I appreciate the offer, but it's not necessary. I'm not doing this for financial gain," he said his grip on the small cellular phone tightening at the idea that Jean-Claude thought he would take money from him for helping Anita.
"As you wish, Monsieur. Good night then. I'd say be careful, but I assume that's not necessary."
"No, it's not, I always am," he said simply and disconnected the call.
After his gin and tonic, Edward returned to his room for the night. He checked his bag that contained his supplies to ensure he had the proper gear for the type of surveillance he would be doing tomorrow. Satisfied, he had what he needed, Edward showered and went to sleep for the night, setting his alarm clock for five o'clock.
Edward rented a motorboat ease, grateful that he was familiar enough with the lake Olaf's cabin was on to know where he could bring the boat to shore and hide it in the brush with relative ease. He cut the motor and let it drift to shore, dressed in fatigues that would hide him in the plush forest type foliage the area offered armed to the teeth. He was ready to bring ten men down if need be. Hopefully, if Olaf were here he would not be prepared for Edward in like fashion.
The cabin was rustic looking, fitting right in with the other cabins on this private drive. The cabin owners were not intrusive, but they did let other people along the lake know when unfamiliar cars drove on the private road, which was why Edward had chosen to come into the area by boat rather than by car. A man fishing on the lake at dawn was nothing strange for upper Minnesota.
He found himself a good area, one that gave him view of the cabin yet allowed him cover and bunkered down, preparing for a long day of surveillance.
While Edward was conducting surveillance on Olaf, Anita was waking up just as Jean-Claude was preparing to rest for the day. She rolled over onto her side, still laying in bed and peered at him as he readied himself for the sleep of the undead.
"Have you changed your mind about my resting in here instead of the other room after yesterday, ma petite?"
"No," she said quickly with a shake of her head. "I was fine. It was a little strange, I won't deny it, but I don't want you in a coffin when you don't need to be."
He walked to the edge of the bed and ran the back of his hand along her cheek. "You are a special woman, ma petite."
"You're just saying that," she said, feeling a little flirtatious for some reason at the moment.
"I asked your pet nurse to come over at some point today. I want her to look at your back."
"I'm fine, Jean-Claude."
"Humor me, ma petite. I want to be sure you are, and you trust her."
"Yes, I do," Anita admitted. "And I will humor you this once, but as soon as these stitches are out I'm done humoring you."
"Thank you," he said before leaning down to kiss her. "And now it is time for me to go to bed, just as you are rising. I'd say it was not fair, but I unfortunately do not know the difference."
"I do," she quipped.
"I laid with you until sleep overtook you, ma petite. I had to feed, I had business to attend to, I cannot deviate from my normal patterns as much as I would like to remain here by your side."
"I hope you know, I would stay with you if I could, but I do not wish to crowd you either."
"You're not crowding me, Jean-Claude, but I understand you need to do your thing. I guess I'll go have breakfast with Sheryl."
"She's looking forward to it, I think she enjoys having another human around during the day."
Anita was about to say something to that, Jean-Claude knew as well as Anita did that she was not a normal human like Sheryl was. But she let it go. "Great, so long as Asher doesn't get jealous and think I'm trying to steal her away."
"No, I do not think that is a worry of his, ma petite. If Asher trusts anyone here, it is you."
Anita stood from the bed and kissed Jean-Claude square on the mouth. "I'm glad. Rest well," she said and frowned. "Nothing happened last night that you require more rest than normal, did it?"
"Nay, ma petite, it was just an ordinary night, with the exception of the beautiful woman sleeping in my bed."
"Sweet talker," she said before turning away to head to his bathroom, ready to get on with her day since she was awake. She was actually looking forward to Cherry's visit. Sheryl was nice, but it would be nice to talk to someone who had information about her house and how those at her house were doing.
Edward saw smoke coming out of the cabin's chimney. If he had not been watching closely, he might have missed it. Olaf was being careful, the fire he had set was small but it still caused smoke to filter out through the chimney. "Gotcha," he murmured before forging a plan in his mind. It was going to come down to him or Olaf today. If Anita's well being was not at stake, Edward might have looked forward to such a showdown. He did look forward to it happening with Anita one day, because he knew that if she and Edward got to the point of a showdown it would be between the two of them with no Z factor.
He shimmied himself on the ground further into the woods, closer to the gravel road and away from the lake. He had to do it if he was going to get an actual view through a window into the house. Hopefully, Olaf would not be counting on Edward hunting him and he would be careless. He had been careless by setting a fire. Either that or it was a trap, but it had been so long since Edward had been to this cabin, surely Olaf would not believe Edward would remember the way any longer. There were so many lakes in this area, so many cabins, but Edward remembered.
Cherry arrived after lunch and Anita was more than glad to see her. Sheryl was a nice enough woman, but Anita had absolutely nothing in common with her. The woman worked as a substitute teacher when she was not working at Guilty Pleasures, so the librarian look was apparently not too far off. She did not truly understand Jean-Claude and Asher's worlds, though she thought she did by way of her association with Guilty Pleasures. Jean-Claude and Asher and those here in St. Louis were in general not ruthless, there were some who were despite the threat of punishment from Jean-Claude.
"Anita," Cherry said, appearing relieved at seeing Anita was in fact alive and well with her own two eyes.
"Hi Cherry," Anita said. "This is Sheryl, a friend of Asher's," she said by way of introduction all the while steering her away from Sheryl so they could talk in private. She knew it was rude, but she really did not care. "Let's get the exam over with," she added for effect.
"Nice to meet you," Cherry said with a glance over her shoulder at Sheryl and followed Anita to the bedroom. Cheryl stared at Jean-Claude on the bed.
"He's resting, so we're alone," she said wondering if Cherry had ever seen a vampire in this state before now.
"He looks so," Cherry paused.
"Dead," Anita finished for her.
Anita merely nodded. "I'm glad you came. How are things?"
"Fine. Edward and Elizabeth had a bit of a run-in yesterday, but I think Edward scared her enough. It's not every day one of our kind comes face to face with Death, gets threatened by Him and lives to tell about it."
"Edward can be very convincing when he wants to be," Anita admitted wryly.
"That he can be. He actually seems nice underneath it all," Cherry said and Anita glanced at her curiously.
"Yes, Edward is nice, for a bounty hunter, Cherry," she stated feeling while she was no one to talk she needed to remind Cherry of just who and what Edward was.
"I'm aware of who he is, Anita. I was just saying, he was relatively nice to us. Jason said he was actually not scared of him while he was at the house."
"He's gone?" Anita asked, feeling a little panicked. Did Edward leave her to fend for herself after all?
"To look for whoever it is he's looking for, yes."
"Oh," Anita said, surprised at how relieved she was to know that Edward was out hunting. She did not envy Olaf being Edward's prey and she knew she should feel bad that she was glad that a human was his prey but honestly Anita just felt relief and hope that this would all end quickly.
"Let's take a look at your back, shall we? Jean-Claude seems to want the stitches out, so I brought some things along to take care of that if it appears to be time." Anita shed her shirt, having foregone a bra yet again today for comfort and presented her back to Cherry so that she could determine if her back had properly healed. "It actually looks pretty good, Anita, I don't see any reason why they can't come out. I'm sort of surprised the doctor didn't take them out at the hospital."
"I, um," Anita shrugged. "Well, let's just say I didn't give him the chance to really."
"Imagine that," Cherry said with a light laugh. "The scissors are going to be cold. Do you want to sit down while I do this?"
"Um, I'm not sure where I can sit and you could still do that," Anita said trying to think of where. "The stool," she said, gesturing to the stool that was in front of her vanity.
It took Cherry a while to remove the stitches and Anita had to force herself to sit still through the process. But finally it was done and Anita was free. She was free to move, though she knew her back would still balk at any sudden movements. She was free finally to make use of Jean-Claude's glorious tub and she could not wait for that.
Too soon for Anita's liking, Cherry stated she had to leave. She really had no reason for coming to the Circus, so she did not want to stay too long and draw attention to herself. She had been there long enough that one watching her might think she had come to apply for a job, but if she stayed too long it might arouse suspicion.
"Thank you, Cherry," Anita said, offering the lycanthrope a smile.
"You're welcome, try and stay out of trouble for a little while this time, why don't you?"
"I promise I'll do my best."
"I don't believe you, but I'll go home today and pretend that it might actually happen," she said offering Anita a saucy grin while stuffing the small bag of medical supplies she had brought with her into her purse. "Be well, Anita," she said before turning to leave. Anita heard her say good bye to Sheryl on her way out.
Sunset came and Anita sensed when Jean-Claude came to. "Good morning," she said, glancing up from the book she was reading.
"It's either read or spend time with Sheryl."
"She's not that bad," he replied as he stood from the bed.
"No, but hours upon hours with her is more than I can take."
"Did your nurse friend not pay you a visit today?"
"Yes, she came by," Anita said as she stood from the comfortable armchair she had been reading in. She turned her back to him and lifted her shirt so he could see her back was free of stitches.
"It looks so red, ma petite."
"It will heal fine, Jean-Claude," she replied quickly, hearing the anger in his voice. She felt when he had come up behind her and waited to see what he would do.
"I hope so, ma petite," he said tracing a finger lightly over the almost fully healed wounds on her back. She flinched at the contact, but then relaxed into it. "You worry me so, triumverate be damned."
"I don't do it intentionally."
"That's actually what makes me worry so, ma petite, I know you do not go looking for it, it just seems to find you. I wish you would just stick with your animating for a while."
"I think Edward would agree with you."
"I may not care for him exactly, but he is a smart man and on this I would agree with him. Take some time and get well, get strong, and give me some time to recoup from the agony I went through not knowing if you were alive or dead."
A knock on Jean-Claude's door interrupted them. Few would interrupt him when the door was closed, so Anita gathered it was important. "Just a minute," Jean-Claude said while he slipped into a silk smoking jacket and made his way to the doors.
"A Mister Forrester on the telephone for you, Sir."
"Thank you, Philip, transfer it here to my room, won't you, as you can see I'm not dressed to come upstairs quite yet."
Jean-Claude went to his side of the bed and sat, waiting for the extension by the bed to ring. When it did, he promptly answered it. "Monsieur Forrester, a pleasure to hear from you again."
"Send the nurse to me," Edward said. His voice sounded different, off, weak.
"Excuse me, Monsieur Forrester."
"I need the nurse."
"I need to know where you are, I will give her use of my jet, of course," Jean-Claude offered, sensing that if Edward was asking for help from a lycanthrope that all was definitely not well.
"Outside of Brainerd, Minnesota. Have you something to write with?"
"Yes, Edward," Jean-Claude said and took down the directions Edward provided him. Jean-Claude had enough experience with death and the stages leading to it to know that Edward was close to losing consciousness. "I will put her on the plane shortly, Edward."
"Oh," Edward said with effort. "Olaf is taken care of," a small gasp for air. "Might want to send someone who can take care of the mess," another gasp for air. "So much blood," he said and then there was nothing. The call was still connected, but no more sounds came from Edward's end of the phone.
"Keep the phone to your ear, ma petite, if your Edward talks to you, talk back to him, try to keep him talking. I have to arrange for the jet and to have your nurse friend perform her duties yet again."
"Is he okay?" Anita asked, taking the telephone automatically from Jean-Claude.
"I don't know," Jean-Claude admitted somberly. "I don't know, but he did say that Olaf was no longer a problem. So I imagine you can return home when you're ready," he said before leaving the room.
It was mid-afternoon the following day when Cherry and Edward returned to St. Louis in Jean-Claude's plane. Anita had met them at the airport and transported them home, needing to see for herself that Edward was in fact alive. He was, but Anita had never seen him look worse. She had to wonder how bad Olaf had looked when it was over if Edward looked this bad and had survived.
The sun had set by now and Anita knew that she should call Jean-Claude, but felt guilty for leaving Edward's side. She had made up a room for him at her house so he could recuperate. She was about to get up and place a call to Jean-Claude when she felt Edward's grip on her hand tighten. He looked so much older than he normally did, and Anita was reminded by the fact that Edward was mortal like she was. One day he would die, Death's reign on the preternatural world would end. There would be no pomp and circumstance when he passed, chances were he would die in circumstances similar to his encounter with Olaf where the only witnesses to the actual fight would be dead, too.
"Are you okay?"
"Me?" she asked incredulously.
"Good," he said simply. "I feel like hell."
"As you should, considering you look like hell. Care to tell me what happened?"
"No," he said with a slight shake of his head. "It's taken care of, that's all you need to know of it."
"I owe you one."
"We're even now, Anita," he said quickly. He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it. "Thanks for the bed."
"You can stay here as long as you need to, you know that."
"I'm going to let you rest now, I need to call Jean-Claude and then I'll bring you something to eat."
"All right," he said simply and his eyes drifted closed. Anita stood from the bed and left the bedroom, pausing outside the door. She had never seen Edward like this, almost helpless and very human seeming. He had been battered and bruised almost beyond recognition. Cherry did not tell Anita the extent of his injuries, simply saying there were a lot of them and that he had lost a lot of blood. He had refused to see a doctor, some of his injuries would have to be reported and Anita knew as well as Edward did that Dolph already had enough questions in his mind about Ted Forrester it was best to avoid bringing more attention on him.
"How's our patient?" Cherry asked once Anita entered the living room.
"Fine, still weak, but he looks better, less pale."
"I'm not sure you should be the one to judge what is less and more pale, Anita," Nathaniel said with a low laugh.
Anita rolled her eyes and left the room without another word, going to the kitchen to see about something to eat for Edward and to call Jean-Claude.
"Hi," she said when he answered the phone. She was one of a few select people who had his personal number that led straight to his bedroom.
"Ma petite?" he queried.
"Were you expecting someone else?"
"No, I'm just surprised is all as I did not expect to hear from you so soon." Anita sort of cringed at his words, but knew that she deserved them.
"I wanted you to know Edward and Cherry made it back, and he will be fine."
"I was aware of their return and I am pleased for your sake, ma petite."
"I know, and while I don't expect you to act enthused about it I wanted you to know."
"Thank you." He paused and Anita did not know what to say. There were things she wanted to say, but she was not sure if she was ready to extend herself just yet. "Is that it then, Anita?" Uh oh, he was irritated with her.
"I," she shrugged and took a deep breath. "Would you like to come over?"
"I would like that," he said after an insufferable amount of silence. She hoped he was not going to punish her now, not that she did not deserve it particularly if what Obsidian told her was true.
"Okay, I know you have things to tend to, so I'll just look for you when you get here."
"For you, ma petite, and such an invitation, I will be there by eight o'clock. Is that early enough?"
"I think so, yes."
"Will we be joined by your friends?"
"Cherry will be here, but I'm sure I can convince the others to get out of here. Elizabeth left as soon as she saw Edward was back and in such bad shape."
"I guess they had a bit of a run in the other day."
"Why does that not surprise me?"
"Cherry said that Edward does not think she's loyal to me."
"Edward is an observant man, ma petite. I have cautioned you regarding her in the past and will say nothing further on the subject as I know you want to believe in all of your furry critters."
"I know and you're both right, but I still can't tell her to leave."
"Perhaps she has saved you the trouble of having to ask or tell, ma petite."
"Perhaps," she said.
"I will see you at eight o'clock. Are we going out or staying in?"
"I sort of had staying at home in mind. Is that okay?"
"For my or for Monsieur Edward's benefit, ma petite?"
"For you, Jean-Claude, he's in good hands with Cherry here."
"I look forward to seeing you later this evening then."
"Me, too," she said.
Anita hung up the phone after they had said their good byes. She knew a call to Richard was in order, but was not ready to make it just yet. Somehow over the past couple of days she had made her decision and he deserved to know what that decision was. She would deal with that later, because tonight she had enough on her mind with Edward recovering here.
Jean-Claude was coming over with the expectation of intimacy with her. It certainly was not a disturbing though, the thought of having him in her bed once again sent tingles of the good variety along her spine and other parts of her body. She still had coffins for Jean-Claude and Asher in the basement, so he would not have to leave before sunrise unless he wanted to.
"I'll bring that in to him," Cherry said bringing Anita out of her thoughts of Jean-Claude in her bed.
"Are you sure?" Anita asked.
"I don't mind. He's actually one of the better patients I've had. He seems to understand that he's not god and he does in fact need to heal."
"I don't know that he likes being helpless, but I think he likes having women to wait on him," Anita said. "Let me clarify that, women who know who he really is. I'm going to go shower, Jean-Claude's coming over later."
"Oh okay," Cherry said.
"Can you guys take off for the evening without getting into trouble?" Anita asked of the others in the living room when she walked from the kitchen to head to her room.
"Uh yeah, sure," Nathaniel said with a hopeful gleam in his eye.
"No trouble," Anita reminded, feeling like she was talking to a child rather than a twenty year old man who happened to also be a lycanthrope. Nathaniel just smirked and Anita shook her head slightly before making her way upstairs to her room.
Jean-Claude came bearing a bouquet of flowers, the assortment not what she would have expected from him normally. It was certainly less flamboyant than a dozen roses, but in some ways it was more effective and personal, which might have been the point. He actually took the time to pick something out.
Cherry had remained in the room with Edward for the most part, coming out on occasion but she was obviously trying to make herself scarce.
"I wonder if your friend will fall under the spell of a lycanthrope woman," Jean-Claude asked, giving voice to the thought that had been playing at the back of Anita's mind all day.
"I don't know, I wouldn't think so."
"Just as no one would have thought you would involve yourself with not one but two of those you hunt, ma petite."
"That's a little different, I'm not paid to hunt you. Besides he's got a girlfriend, a fiancée with children."
"Ted does," she said unable to hide his disdain.
"You've met this woman I take it?"
"Yes, and I don't like her. She doesn't seem to worry about her kids too much, their father was killed."
"Exactly, and she doesn't seem to recognize that. And she's totally clueless that Ted is not a good guy."
He kissed the side of her head lightly, grazing her temple and hairline with his lips briefly. She did not talk to him often about her feelings, about what it was like to grow up without her parents but he knew why it bothered her so much to see children pushed aside and forgotten about. "Ted can be very convincing when he wants to be, ma petite. Your police friends aside, they're trained to be suspicious."
"I know," she said, knowing she probably sounded petty. She grew quiet then, not sure what else to say.
"Is there something else on your mind, ma petite? Besides Edward's love life?"
"You're the one who brought it up," she said, tracing a fingertip over the back of his hand. His fingers were long and slender and as with everything about him, graceful looking. "I've made a decision," she said then.
"I'm ready to choose."
"Well, don't leave me in suspense, ma petite. Do tell."
"Well, you're here, I thought that would be sort of obvious. I'm also ready to be a part of the triumverate, to do my part, so long as I have assurances from you and from Richard that my privacy will not be violated."
"I can abide by that condition, ma petite. I never purposely invaded your thoughts, your privacy."
"I know you didn't, but if I'm going to drop the blocks I've worked so hard over the past six months to put up I want assurances."
"And if Richard will not?"
"I don't know, we'll have to see if we can find a way to convince him."
"He is not going to take losing you easily, Anita. You do realize this?"
"I do, and hopefully with time he'll come around and realize that he's a part of us regardless. I hate hurting him, but my connection with you is stronger."
"I don't want you to choose me based on that, ma petite."
"No, it's not just that. You felt there was something wrong and you contacted me, he did not. You care for me no matter what, and I know you would not get all moody and vengeful if I was to choose him instead of you. Okay, other than making me date both of you."
"It worked in my favor, did it not?"
"Yes, I suppose it did. I'd be married to him by now if it weren't for that."
"Is this what you want, ma petite? To be married to a man that you cannot fully trust? I realize you're attracted to him, he is a virile gentleman after all, but he does not have control over his beast."
"You're telling me nothing I don't know already, Jean-Claude, which is why I'm choosing you. I also don't want to weaken you anymore and I can't stand the thought of you being with anyone else. While it hurt to see Richard trying to find another lupa, I don't get the same feeling I get when I think of you being with someone else."
"You flatter me, ma petite, and underestimate yourself if you believe I could replace you in the fashion Monsieur Zeeman was looking to replace you. Were I in his shoes I might seek out another woman but I would never seek out another lupa."
"I wouldn't, you are a benefit to his pack, your human status aside, and he should stand by you. He's only weakening himself and the pack's view of him."
"Yes," she said unable to disagree with him there. These are all things she was aware of, things she had tried to subtly tell Richard but her words fell on deaf ears.
"I must say I am pleased with your choice, ma petite. More pleased now that you have accepted your status as my human servant and the triumverate is in place."
"Why's that?" she asked curious.
"I am not sure that I could bare to part with you, ma petite. If you had accepted me as your lover, allowed me to take you as my mate without the marks and the triumverate in place, you would die eventually and I am unsure I would want to allow my feelings for you to grow further only to lose you in a few years."
"Seventy or one, ma petite, when you've lived as long as I have the number only amounts to a few."
"I see your point," she said, still unsure if she had grasped the idea of living forever without being undead. "I will tell Richard soon, I have left you both hanging for too long."
"You are worth the wait, ma petite, if you were not neither of us would have waited."
"You say the sweetest things," she said with a roll of her eyes.
"I speak the truth."
She stood from the couch and put out the fire in the fireplace, it was barely smoldering this late into the night but she still was not going to take any chances. "Are you ready for bed?"
"It is not sunrise yet, ma petite."
"No, I was sort of thinking of working on building your strength back up before sunrise."
"An enchanting offer."
"One you care to accept?"
"I'd be delighted, please lead the way," he said taking Anita's offered hand before walking with her upstairs and into her room.
Three Weeks Later
Richard had not taken Anita's choice well, as she suspected. She left it up to Jean-Claude to talk to him about the triumverate. Jean-Claude was looking into replacing Richard with another lycanthrope, Anita had suggested Rafael if he discovered it was an option.
"Have you seen Edward?" Cherry asked from the doorway. Anita witnessed nothing between Edward and Cherry to indicate there was anything between the two of them, but did notice Edward was very hyperaware of her presence in any room.
He told her some of what happened with Olaf, but Anita suspected she would never know the entire story. Regardless of his claiming that they were now even, Anita felt she owed him now more than ever before. Jean-Claude agreed with her, though he had not said so in so many words. The two men in her life, master vampire and preternatural being hunter, had come to some sort of gentleman's agreement.
"He's not in his room?"
"No, and the room is empty."
"What?" Anita asked, hearing the hurt in Cherry's voice and feeling a little hurt herself. Anita did not find it so unbelievable he would not say good bye to the others, but to leave without telling her hurt a lot.
"His things are gone."
Anita went out the back door, walked outside to the driveway where sure enough the rental Jeep was gone. "I guess he's feeling better," Anita said.
"I knew he was, he had mentioned leaving, but I didn't think he'd just up and leave."
"Neither did I." Anita was baffled. She was tempted to ask Cherry if something had happened between them to cause Edward to leave, but it was none of her business. Like always, Edward entered and exited Anita's life on his terms. "I'm sorry," she said to Cherry, knowing she had grown attached to him even if her feelings were not returned.
Anita went back inside knowing there was nothing she could do. Anita might have a chance at finding him but she was not going to. She was not going to betray their friendship by chasing him down where his life as Ted was. If he had gotten Cherry pregnant or something she might violate the trust he had bestowed upon her by showing her where he lived, but not over something like this. Edward had come and gone from her life since they had known one another. He would not have left if he did not feel better, so Anita had to take comfort in the knowledge that Edward was fine.
She had little time to dwell on it anyway as Jean-Claude arrived. He was dressed casually tonight in a pair of jeans and a plain button-up top. Since Anita had made her decision to be with him, Jean-Claude still dressed to shock and please at his clubs. Away from them, though, his dress had become more mainstream. "Don't you look modern," she said, kissing him.
"You don't like it, ma petite?" She had asked him once why he had changed and he had said it was out of respect for her, that his club patrons expected it but that he felt wrong in drawing attention to himself in such a flamboyant manner when accompanying her socially as half of a couple. She had been flattered and told him so after ensuring he did not believe she expected such a change out of him.
"Oh I do."
"You prefer my other clothes better?"
"I didn't say that," she said. She really had no opinion one way or the other. Jean-Claude wore clothes that were flattering to his form no matter how revealing they were.
He grazed her cheek with the back of his hand. "What is troubling you, Anita? It is not my outfit, I know this, as every other man in the room is dressed in a similar fashion."
"And this has you upset? I'm confused, ma petite. I realize he has been your houseguest for the past few weeks and you were with him for quite some time out west, but surely you realized he would leave."
"He didn't say good bye."
"Oh," he said with understanding. "I'm sure he has his reasons, ma petite. It is not your place to worry about Monsieur Forrester. He will be fine. One thing I have come to understand about him is that he would not have left if he was not fit to leave."
"I know. I still hate the idea of him going back to Donna," she whispered.
"I'm sure he hated the idea of you taking up with me again, ma petite, yours is not the place to judge."
"I think Cherry's upset."
"I'm sure she is, but she will get over it."
He was right, and it was not Anita's place to pry. She did not want to pry into Edward's life more than her lack of desire to pry into Cherry's. "You ready to watch movies?"
"If I must."
"Oh come on, we went to the opera last night."
"Yes, ma petite, I'm well aware of how well the opera went over with you. If I must suffer through modern cinema to get back in your good graces then I shall do it."
"That's what I like to hear." She led Jean-Claude to the living room. "I'll be right back," she said heading toward her room. She spotted the envelope lying on her pillow and picked it up. She debated about opening it, afraid of what it might say, afraid that Edward might say this time his leaving was for good and he would not be back. Curiosity got the better of her, however, and she opened it recognizing Edward's bold yet simple handwriting immediately.
I assume by now you realize I have left. Some might say I took the coward's way out and left without saying goodbye, but I have no room in my life for emotional attachments. You know this as well as I. If I crossed the line I have debated crossing over the past couple of weeks, the line you yourself crossed some time ago, I would no longer know who I am or what my purpose was. This is something I simply cannot, or perhaps more aptly put will not, do - throw my life off kilter. I have spent far too long seeing the preternaturals as being lesser beings, the enemy. And while your friends have demonstrated to me there are exceptions, to involve myself with them more personally than distantly through you would be my downfall.
Please thank Cherry for her assistance and let her know if there's anything I can ever do for her to return the favor she merely needs to ask.
As for Donna, I will be breaking things off with her and leaving the area. Ted Forrester will disappear into the sunset. If you hate me for turning my back on Peter and Becca I will understand, I know this is an issue near and dear to her heart but I would only hurt them by remaining in their lives. I'm a bad example, I have no idea why I ever believed I could be a positive role model for someone else's children. I have no idea where Ted will resurface. This is for your safety, so please do not think that I'm doing this because I dislike your knowing where I live. If you were to ever be questioned about me, I prefer you have no information to give out. It's better that way for all concerned.
Once I have regrouped and am back on the hunt, I have no doubts my travels will take me through St. Louis. Be assured those under your protection have the same immunity to contracts as if they were you as far as I'm concerned, all but Elizabeth who I make no promise I would spare if given the chance to take her down for a price.
Be careful, Anita Blake, and until we meet again enjoy the small gift I have left for you under the bed. I had it made especially for you knowing I may need you to fly to me again some day. Use it well.
Anita folded the letter and placed it back into the envelope before searching under her bed. Under it, she found a gun, made of some lightweight wood grain in appearance material. It felt smooth to the touch, like plastic. She opened the hammer and the barrel held two bullets. She had no idea if the gun would be good for multiple uses or if this was just a one use gun, but either way she would board her next plane feeling a little better about things knowing she was able to at least carry one weapon with her. She was not sure it would kill, the barrel obviously held a small caliber bullet, but in a pinch it would be better than nothing.
"Thank you, Edward," she said placing the weapon in her weapons closet before returning downstairs where she sat on the couch next to her vampire lover, surrounded by her lycanthrope friends who were piled together on the floor the way of pard and pack members.
"Are you okay, ma petite?" Jean-Claude whispered in her ear as Nathaniel started the movie.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said offering him a smile before placing her head in the crook of his arm, leaning against him, a hand at his thigh, readying herself for a quiet night at home. She was returning to work at Animators, Inc. tomorrow and would also be back on call with Dolph's preternatural police force team as of tomorrow so she vowed to enjoy what she imagined would be her last night of solitude for some time.
Story ©Susan Matthews/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com