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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:01

Micah, Jean-Claude, and I ended up sitting at the far end of the oval with me in the middle so that I could lay a hand on Jean-Claude's thigh and hold Micah's hand. Jean-Claude's arm was across my shoulders so that his hand rested on the back of Micah's shoulders. Dev sat beside Micah, who he wasn't that close to, but tonight he seemed to huddle near him, not touching, because Micah didn't let just anyone touch him casually, unless they were part of our pard. Other flavors of animal had to earn the right to casual touching from Micah. Come to that, neither did Jean-Claude and I, but Dev was on my touching list. Domino and Crispin were on the side by Jean-Claude but had given themselves a seat between so they weren't crowding him. Dev was as close to Micah as he could get and not touch him. He kept rubbing his hands on the tabletop as if trying to memorize the grain of the wood with his fingertips. I didn't have to lower my metaphysical shields to know he was nervous. I didn't think it was the fight with Thorn, or even the injury; they'd been raised together. Think about the fights you used to have with your siblings, now what if you could heal almost any injury; yeah, that kind of vicious squabbling had been pretty normal for them growing up. Dev even had a scar on his back from a silver knife used in practice with Thorn years before we met them. So what was wrong? My bet was it was something to do with Asher, Kane, and Dev's dynamics, but matters of the heart were going to have to wait until later; right now it was metaphysics time.

"When Anita and I touched Dev together, you felt the power?" Micah asked.

Jean-Claude said, "Oui, it was like the first time you touched him together. I assume it isn't always like that between the three of you."

"I don't know," Micah said.

Jean-Claude frowned slightly. "How can you not know? If it happened every time you touched each other, I know you would have mentioned it to me. So it is a rare occurrence."

"This is only the second time it's happened," I said.

"Very rare then," he said.

Micah shook his head, his long ponytail catching slightly under Jean-Claude's arm. "This is only the second time that Anita and I have touched Dev."

Jean-Claude frowned a little more. "But I know Anita has had sex with Dev and you in the bed more than just that first night."

"I've touched Anita while Dev has touched her, but tonight was only the second time she and I have touched Dev; do you see the difference?"

Jean-Claude did the long blink, his face pleasant and unreadable; it was his version of blank cop face. Even his leg had gone very still under my hand, as if he were holding more than just his breath. Older vampires could almost suspend movement, as if all the "being alive" could just stop.

He blinked again, and it was as if someone had hit the on switch. He took a breath and said, "Are you saying that you have never, even accidentally, touched Dev at the same time he was touching Anita, even during sex?"

Jean-Claude looked at me; it was an eloquent look.

"Dev and I haven't had sex that often. Asher is too insecure when his male lovers want to bed women, you know that."

"He has been working that issue, but yes, he is more insecure around bisexual men. Heterosexuals he sees as a challenge to seduce, but with bisexuals he thinks he is simply not enough to keep them entertained."

"Which is just weird, because he likes women, too," I said.

"Emotional issues are seldom logical, ma petite."

"You know, you're all talking like Dev can't hear you, and he's right there," Crispin said. It made me look from the tall, slender dancer to Dev, whose hands were still trying to rub a hole through the tabletop.

"I'm sorry, Dev," I said.

"Thank you, Crispin," Micah said, "you're right."

Dev didn't look at anyone.

"Dev," I said, "what's wrong?"

He just shook his head.

"Kane has become even more possessive lately," Jean-Claude said.

I glanced at him. "He has already forbidden Asher any women but me, and even then only when we were with you, Richard, or Nathaniel. What other restrictions did he put in place?"

"Kane says that I don't meet any needs that he can't meet for Asher. Nathaniel and you meet his need to dominate in the bedroom and dungeon. Richard meets his need to be dominated in the dungeon." Dev looked up, and there was such raw pain on his face. "I know Kane tried to forbid Asher your bed, too, Jean-Claude."

"I did not tolerate it. Kane needed to remember his place."

Dev nodded a little too often and too quickly. "Yeah, you and Asher have been an item for a few hundred years, and you're the king, so Kane had to eat that jealousy, but I'm new and I'm no one's king."

"Are you saying that Asher has allowed Kane to cast you out as his lover?"

"What does 'almost' mean?" I asked.

"I'm getting less and less sex from Asher and every time we do, Kane throws a huge fit. I'm pretty sure that Asher loves me, but not enough to put up with the emotional . . ." Dev spread his big hands as if he couldn't find the words.

"Over the centuries it has been Asher who made the emotional cost too high with others for me. I did not always give in, because I found that there would always be more jealousy, but now it seems Asher has found his match in Kane."

"I was ready to marry Asher," Dev said.

I reached across Micah and patted Dev's hand. "I know, and I'm sorry he's being a shit."

"It's not him, it's Kane."

I took my hand back and didn't say anything, but I knew from experience with other people that no one can be a shit unless the other person tolerates it, so it was still Asher's responsibility to run his relationships better than this.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked.

"I thought we'd work it out, but Asher only loves one person enough to fight for them and that's Jean-Claude."

"And the fact that I do not want Asher to be my primary relationship hurts him," Jean-Claude said.

"Maybe it's time to let Asher find a territory where he can be Master of the City away from the rest of us," Micah said.

I felt Jean-Claude startle, which didn't happen often; he was too controlled for it. "We have had this discussion. Asher has won the libido, if not the heart, of Narcissus, who controls the St. Louis werehyenas. They have vowed to move with Asher if he goes, and the hyenas are a large part of our guards."

"Not as much as they were. Rafael, Richard, and I have slowly been working the rats, wolves, and other animal groups up to size and skill set. Give me a few weeks more and the werehyenas can do as they like."

Jean-Claude, Dev, and I stared at him. Crispin and Domino didn't. Only three of us at the table hadn't known this little plan. Domino traveled out of town as security for Micah, but I hadn't thought he was that close to Crispin, and that was interesting. Richard Zeeman, who was the local Ulfric, wolf king, was usually useless when it came to choosing new wolves for his pack who could actually help us fight bett

"Have you really been plotting to remove Asher from St. Louis, mon chat?"

"He's proved himself unstable on multiple occasions and used the threat of removing the hyenas from us to emotionally blackmail you and Anita. I thought it was a good idea to take away his leverage and make us strong enough to tell him to go to hell, if he tries it again."

"I didn't realize," I said.

He looked at me. "Realize what?"

"You really don't like Asher."

"I am sorry, mon ami, if I have not done more to foster better feelings between you and him."

"It's not you who needs to work harder at fostering good relations between Asher and me; that would be his responsibility."

"Is it totally lame to say that we missed Asher when he was gone for six months?" I asked.

Micah smiled. "Not lame, but we can find you and Nathaniel another dominant to play with; we can't afford to let Asher's issues rise and hurt us again."

"I agree with that last part, but he has been working his issues, or I thought he had." I glanced at Dev. I wasn't so sure now.

Micah said, "I know that Asher meets a lot of needs for people here, and he's happy up to a point here, but beyond that point he still feels jealous of you, and conflicted about Anita, and damn near predatory of any of the men in your life who don't want to sleep with him."

"Is he still pushing upon your boundaries, mon chat?"

Micah shrugged. "Nothing I can't handle, and it's not personal. Asher doesn't want me any more than he wants any attractive man, or maybe he wants me to want him, that seems to be the prime thing for Asher. He wants to be desired, and anyone he desires who doesn't return the favor hits his insecurities, especially if that someone is in your bed, or Anita's. He's liked me even less since he found out that Nathaniel and I are intimate, and it's not just the way Dev and I are with Anita."

"And what way is that?" Crispin asked. He leaned forward, his long arms clasped on the table in front of him. When I'd met him he'd seemed like just another handsome stripper that I'd managed to accidentally attract, but the press of intelligence in his blue tiger eyes, the demand in his face, the set of his shoulders, showed just how much more there was to him than the body that made it rain money onstage. Domino sitting beside him was shorter, looked a little stockier, but it was the extra muscle from working out with the other bodyguards; with his hair mostly white with only a black curl here and there, he and Crispin looked more alike than normal. You had to look past the tiger eyes the color of flames to see it, but it was there in the bone structure. I realized that I didn't see the two of them this close together that often. Most of the dancers didn't hang out with the guards, or hit the gym at the same time for the same kind of workouts. They weren't technically cousins, because Domino had been an orphan found and adopted by the white tiger clan, but centuries of inbreeding in the clans had left its mark on both of them.