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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:04

The water poured over our faces as we kissed, so that it was as if the water were part of the kiss: pounding, hot, streaming down our skin, beating against my upturned face as the kiss grew more eager. I could feel him pressed between us, his body growing eager with the kiss. It was wonderful and romantic until I needed to breathe and my vampire lover didn't; then it was like drowning as I tried to hold my breath and kiss him past the point where my body wanted air. I finally had to turn my head to the side and take a breath with the water streaming all around us. My body wanted a gasping, big breath, but I knew it had to be a shallow, careful breath, or I'd swallow water, and there was nothing romantic about choking in the shower, even naked.

Jean-Claude stood there with his face shrouded by the silvering fall of water, like a shining, moving veil. He knew to lower his head enough so the water didn't actually run into his eyes, so he could keep them open and let me see his blue, blue eyes framed by the wet black lace of his eyelashes, and the silvered water, so that it was like looking at dark blue pools through silver mist, while being held by the strength of his body. It was a one-two punch of romance and sex.

He lowered his face, and I raised mine so we could kiss again under the pounding, hot water. When I had to turn away to breathe a second time, he moved us out from under the water to the corner near the faucet, so that only the back of his body was still in the water. He set me on my feet in the corner, my back against the strangely cool tiles, and then he knelt in front of me.

The water had soaked into his hair so that the curl was gone, and all that long, black hair spilled more than halfway down his back, perilously close to his waist. My hair had grown heavy and straight with the water just like his so that it fell to my waist, instead of curling to midback. His hair clung in dark strands to his face; it made his eyes look even bluer than normal, like the sky at sunset when the blue gives one last flash of blue, before the sky drowns in orange and red, and darkness falls. Water beaded on his face, clung to the kissable curves of his mouth, as he leaned in toward my body.

I put a hand on his face and stopped him. My voice was shaky as I half-laughed and said, 'I can't believe I'm saying this, but we don't have time for that much foreplay. I've got to question some vampire suspects before dawn.'

'You will not be able to question them tonight,' he said.

'Fredrico, their Master of the City, contacted me. He regrets, but when he learned that they had been bespelled, he interceded on their behalf and they have, what is the term, lawyered up. If their testimony is valuable it could save them.'

'Every hour that we waste gives the vampire that's doing this a chance to escape, and spread this sickness to more people.'

He put his hands on either side of my hips. 'That is true, ma petite, but dawn will come and trap him as it traps us all. No vampire will be harming anyone once the sun rises.'

He smiled. 'You helped make the law that gives the vampires rights to lawyers.'

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I gave a small smile. 'I guess I didn't think it would be used against me.'

'We often do not foresee the outcome of our actions, ma petite. We strive to do good things, but often there is a bit of bad in with it all.'

'But there is good with the news; it means we have time for me to lick the water off your body, until we can drown the sorrow from your eyes.'

'There's no sorrow in my eyes. I need to get to work.'

He looked at me, just looked at me. It wasn't vampire powers or his beauty that made me look away. It was the knowledge in his eyes. He knew me too well for me to lie to him, and if I couldn't lie to him, I couldn't lie to myself. Damn it, that's what happens when you let people get too close. You can't hide anymore, not even from yourself.

'I'm trying to concentrate on work,' and even to me it sounded lame and like wishful thinking.

'Work can be a balm for such things,' he said, softly.

I made myself look at him, as he knelt half in the water, his graceful hands resting on either side of my hips. His face was neutral as only the older vampires could be, so that he gave me nothing to judge, or react to, just this patient waiting for me to decide if I was going to lash out in my anger or let him comfort me.

I touched one of the strands of hair that was plastered to his skin. 'When you came through the curtain I was so happy to see you.' I moved the strand away from his face, smoothing it back. 'Even knowing you shouldn't have come, that the local master would see it as a power play.' I touched a strand on either side of his face and smoothed them back into the heavy blackness of the rest of his so-wet skin. 'Even knowing it's dangerous when you travel, because you're outside the fortress that the Circus of the Damned has become.' I pushed back the last stray lock of his hair so that his face was clean and perfect. For once I said everything I was thinking, as if I were too raw to stop myself. 'Looking down at you like this, and I still marvel that you want me, that someone beautiful as you wants me after six years ...'

His lips parted, as if he would speak, and I put my fingertip against his mouth.

'You'll say I'm beautiful, and I have to believe you. I have to believe the amazingly beautiful people in my life who keep saying it, but I'm saying this, that I never grow used to the beauty of you, your eyes, your face, the hair, the body, everything. I love that you came. You didn't have to. You could have just lowered your shields, reached out to me, and felt everything I was feeling.'

He wrapped his hand around mine and moved it from his lips, laying a gentle kiss on my fingers as he did it. 'When I saw you on the television bleeding and hurt I knew you would not die, because I could feel how hurt you were, and I knew we had power to heal you and bring you safely home to me, to us, but it wasn't enough, ma petite.' He pressed my hand to his chest. 'I needed to feel this. I needed to touch your skin, kiss your lips, hold you as close as I could. I would survive your death physically, I believe there is enough power now for that, but my heart ...' He raised my hand and kissed it. 'My heart, it beats for you, Anita Blake. If there were a way for us to marry without the other men in our lives feeling excluded, I would ask it of you.'

I felt the tears in my eyes and had to concentrate not to blink. I would not cry. My voice didn't show it when I said, 'Micah said almost the same thing to Nathaniel and me.'

Jean-Claude tilted his head to one side. 'Then let us do it.'

'Legally you can marry only one of us, but we could have a ceremony; there is precedence for it.'

'What do you mean?' I asked.

'A group marriage, not legally, but we could handfast, jump the broom as it was once called here in America.'

I was crying, and I hadn't meant to. 'How would we do it? I mean, how many of us? What about rings? I mean, do we all get rings? Do we all get engagement rings? Who would be willing to marry that many people to each other?'

He smiled, and he looked happy, just happy. 'I do not know the answers to most of your very reasonable questions, ma petite, but that you are asking them, and did not simply say no, is more than I had hoped for.'

I started to cry harder, so that I had to swallow the lump in my throat to say, 'Did you really think I'd say no?'

'Yes,' he said. 'If I had dreamt otherwise I would have made it the most romantic night of your life and conspired with the other men in our lives to sweep you off your feet. But as it has always been between us, ma petite, you put me at a disadvantage and throw all my romantic ideals into the air to land where they may.' He kissed my hand and got to his feet. He kept my hand in his and touched my face with his fingertips, ever so lightly. He studied my face as if he would memorize it. The tears slowed, and I looked up into that most beautiful of faces.

'Anita Blake, will you do me the honor' - he dropped to one knee in the shower - 'the honor and wonder of marrying me?'

I started to cry again, damn it! I nodded and finally found my voice. 'Yes, yes, I will.'

He smiled up at me, his face alight, not with vampire powers or psychic gifts of any kind, but with joy. After nearly six hundred years he was still just a man kneeling in front of a woman, relieved that she'd said yes and happier because of it. And me, for once I let myself be the girl, and I cried, and I let him hold me as I did it. I cried because I was happy and sometimes you get so happy your heart fills up and spills out your eyes, but I cried for Ares, too. I cried for what I'd had to do, and I cried because if I had to do it over again, if I'd known what would happen, the only thing I would have changed is I would have killed him sooner. I wouldn't have risked the officers on the helicopter, and somehow I felt their deaths were on me, even though I knew I couldn't have guessed what would happen. Logically I knew that, but guilt isn't about logic, and neither is love.

Somewhere in all the crying and touching, the kissing grew from gentle to something with force and need. We celebrated my yes on the floor of the shower. We started with him on top so I could see all that amazing beauty above me, his body thrusting in and out of mine, but the shower kept spraying around his body and it was a race to see if I'd feed the ardeur or drown first. We moved me to my knees, laughing, until he entered me from behind and stole the laughter and the breath from my throat for a moment, with the sheer pleasure of him inside me.

He spread my legs farther apart, his hands controlling my body, keeping me still so he could glide over that spot inside my body over and over again in long, slow, full strokes. The sensation of it was extraordinary.

'Jean-Claude, Jean-Claude, Jean-Claude.' I said his name in time to his body, so that it became part of the rhythm.

My breathing sped, and I could feel the building pleasure, so close. 'Oh, my God, close, so close.'

His rhythm hesitated for just a moment, and then he went back to that long, sinuous stroke of his body inside mine. I could hear him breathe now, and that he was fighting to keep it even, steady, as the rest of his body. Control your breath and you control so much.

Between one stroke and the next, the pleasure spilled over me, through me, so that my body pulsed and beat with it. I screamed my pleasure into the floor, and it echoed back at me, deafening. He held his rhythm, though I could feel his fingers tight against my ass, as he fought to keep me as still as he could, and with every stroke he brought me again, so that it was orgasm after orgasm, or maybe just one long, rolling line of pleasure.

His voice came strained, 'Ma petite, feed, feed for I will not last, loose the ardeur and feed.'

It was there, just below everything, waiting. With less than a thought it was roaring to life, spilling up through me like another pleasure to ride on the orgasm and thrust itself into the man inside me, so that he cried out. I felt his body spasm one more time, and the next thrust was deep and solid, and it brought me again, screaming, my nails scrambling at the wet tile trying to find something to hold on to, to sink into, to anchor myself in the midst of all that pleasure.

I fed on the joy of him inside me, the foolishness of our love, on the memory of his face as he looked up at me, and even the tears I'd shed. It was a good, thorough feeding, because I didn't feed just on our lust, but on our love.

I collapsed onto the tile with him still inside me. I fought to keep my face above the tile, and he fought to keep his upper body from pinning me to the floor and the water underneath us. Our arms trembled in an echo of exertion and pleasure.

'I love you, ma petite,' he said, in a shaky voice.

'Je t'aime, Jean-Claude,' I said, and my voice trembled as I said it, but that was just great sex, and I was as certain of what I'd just said as anything I'd ever said in my life.