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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:59

"Please," she repeated. He was still only touching the edge of her chin with the barest tips of his fingers, but she began to open her eyes as if she couldn't help herself. I remembered when I'd wanted to see what face went with that voice but been too afraid to look.

I realized that was it; it was the first time I'd seen him interact with another woman where it reminded me so strongly of what he'd done with me years ago. I'd seen him with other sexual partners, but he treated them all differently, unique to them, and nothing like he treated me. I was special to him, as he was to me, but as Lita opened her eyes like a bird staring at a snake, I wondered if I'd ever looked at him in just that way when I was still fighting to stay free of him.

"Your talk is rough, ma souris, but you are not."

I watched her try to fight at that, the struggle to break his gaze plain on her face, her hands that tried to rise up and then just hung in midair as if she didn't remember that she'd moved them.

Nicky came up beside me and I reached out for his hand to hold, because I'd never seen Jean-Claude like this with one of our guards before. I didn't like it much and Nicky had picked up on that.

Jean-Claude stepped back from her, but she stayed frozen, staring at where his face had been, her face slack and empty as if waiting for orders.

"It is as I feared," he said in his normal voice.

"What is as you feared?" I asked.

"I did not try to bespell her, ma petite. I used no powers, and she is a type of wereanimal that I should have no special hold over, but she stands there enchanted and waiting for whatever I would do."

"So this was a test?" I asked, and squeezed Nicky's hand.

I must have frowned, because he put his head to one side, studying me. "You are upset. I come through the door to find that you have a gun to her head and are threatening to kill her, but my bespelling her upsets you; why?"

"It's almost the exact same thing you used to do to me at the beginning, when you were trying to seduce me and I was trying not to be seduced."

"This is play to me, ma petite, or was once. When you and I began this dance I never dreamt that you would be in my life, be my love, my queen." He walked toward me, leaving Lita standing frozen and waiting for what came next. It was like she didn't matter at all to him.

"You were going to blow her brains out, Anita," Nicky said.

"Maybe," I said, and it sounded pissy even to me.

"What is wrong, ma petite?" Jean-Claude asked.

"It's like you don't care about Lita, at all, and you just did the big vamp thing with her."

"You know that this is not my 'big vamp thing,' this is play, and I needed to see if my powers had grown; a woman that you would threaten to kill seemed a safe choice, but I see it was not."

"Were you just playing with me at the beginning?" I asked.

"You know you began as a challenging seduction, as I began as just a handsome irritant to you." He was standing directly in front of me now, and since I still had Nicky's hand he was standing in front of both of us. "Your strength of character intrigued me, and then your power called to me"--he reached for my hand and I let him take it, but I didn't exactly hold on--"and the rest of you quite overwhelmed me, eventually." He lifted my hand up and laid a kiss against my knuckles.

I think I glared at him.

He rose up, still holding my hand loosely. "Ma petite, this jealousy is unlike you, especially over something so small."

I nodded. "You're right; it's just that I hadn't realized that the early part of our seduction really was just a game to you. I mean, I knew it, but I didn't, if that makes sense."

"But wasn't it a game on both our parts, the old game of the man pursuing and the woman escaping his attentions?"

I thought about it, then shook my head. "I didn't know it was a game, at the time."

"Perhaps modern people do not speak of it so bluntly, but it is the age-old game of chase and capture. There is always someone in a relationship who begins the hunt for someone's heart, and the pursued must decide whether she wishes to be easily caught, or to be a long and difficult hunt." He smiled when he said it.

I frowned at him. "Have you ever not gotten to sleep with someone you set your sights on?"

He raised the dark, graceful curve of one eyebrow. "You led me on the merriest chase of anyone I had ever met, ma petite."

"What does ma souris mean?" I asked.

"Mouse, because she is too weak to be a rat." He frowned and said, "Is that it, the French nickname? I can refrain from using that with any other woman if you like, ma petite."

I squeezed their hands, the impossibly beautiful vampire and the handsome solidness of the werelion. They squeezed back, Jean-Claude smiling at me, and Nicky just waiting to see what was going to happen. Jean-Claude and I were shielding hard not to feel every emotion in both of us, but with Nicky as my Bride he could always feel what I was feeling. In that moment he knew more about the tangle of emotions I'd just waded through. It seemed weird that Jean-Claude didn't understand that I was close to angry with him, but Nicky did. I could lower my metaphysical shields and let Jean-Claude know how deep the relationship crap had gotten, but I didn't. One, we'd fought too long to have emotional privacy, and two, I was mad and didn't want to make it easier for him. The moment I thought it, I knew I'd have to do better than that, but . . .

"So you tested your powers on Lita, because why?"

"You had a gun to her head; I thought you didn't care for her."

I made myself think before I spoke. "I don't really."

He smiled a little, carefully. "Then that is good."

"What I mean is, why did you test your abilities on any of the female guards?"

"I've begun to fear that my powers to bespell have grown stronger, and before I go onstage at Guilty Pleasures again I want to know just how strong they have grown. I do not want to accidentally mind-roll some human audience member."

"Did something happen at the club tonight?" I asked.

"Yes, and no, as in it went according to plan. My voice bespelled the audience, but it was the manner in which the women reacted to me when I walked among them as host. It just seemed . . . different."

"So did you do that to Lita on purpose?" I asked, looking at the woman who was still motionless behind him.

"I meant to see what my touch and gaze could do without any added power, oui. She is a wereanimal, which should give her more immunity than a pure human, and she is an animal that I have no tie to, which should have helped her resist me, but as you see . . ." He used our clasped hands to motion at her.

"Have you actually mind-fucked her?" I asked.

"It would appear so." He didn't sound happy about it, though.

"If you've rolled her past a certain point, then you can't undo it," I said.

He sighed, which he didn't always do, since he didn't always breathe. "I will have to be most cautious at the clubs."

"Cautious?" Kelly said. "You barely touched her, and look at her. I've seen you onstage, Jean-Claude; you touch the audience more than that." She motioned at Lita with the hand that wasn't holding a gun. She'd put the AR on her own shoulder like an awkward purse.

As if she'd heard her name, Lita took a long shuddering breath, and blinked. She looked confused, and then she saw Jean-Claude. "You son of a bitch, you fucking son of a bitch, you rolled me like some kind of human tourist!"

Jean-Claude smiled. "She remembers what I did, that's good."

Lita's hands were in fists at her side. "You bastard, how is that good?"

"It means he didn't mind-fuck you," I said.

"The hell he didn't!"

"If he had, you wouldn't remember that he'd done anything to you. You'd have just woken up and remembered whatever happened just before he touched your face, or maybe not even remember that he'd even spoken to you."

"So you mean the fact that Lita remembers what Jean-Claude did means he didn't actually roll her?" Kelly asked.

Lita shook her head. "No, no, I was helpless, fucking helpless, and you're saying that wasn't mind-fucking me?"

"No," I said, "it wasn't."

Lita began to curse, first in English and then in Spanish in a long nervous torrent. She turned to Kelly. "Get me out of here, away from them both."

"I'll take you to Claudia," Kelly said, and led the other woman toward the long curtain. Dino raised it for them. "Ladies."

Kelly turned just before going through the curtains. "I'd noticed that I'm having a harder time ignoring you, and you aren't supposed to have the ability to call lions either. You might want to ask some of the other wereanimals and see if they've noticed it, too."

"I will do that, and thank you for telling me."

She nodded. "Now that I know you weren't doing it on purpose, I figure you needed to know."

Dino let the drapes fall back in place.