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Jason (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 23) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:58:24

"But you're tied to them until death do you part, too, trapped with a whole bunch of people you don't love. I'm not even sure you like all of them."

"I don't dislike any of them," I said.

She smiled and patted my arm. "It's okay, Anita, it's okay that you don't like everyone the ardeur has found for you."

"Before I had so much control of the ardeur it could make the men, lovers, that it found for me perfect matches with me in so many ways; we think that's what happened with Micah and Nathaniel."

"Or maybe you would have loved them anyway, Anita," she said.

I shrugged. "We'll never know now, will we?"

"So you feel guilty because you had enough control to not fall in love with all of them?" she asked.

"Wait," Jason said. "Damian and Nathaniel got tied to you at the same time and you didn't fall head over heels with Damian, so just saying it's all about control level on the ardeur isn't true."

I stared up at him; he was right. "Why didn't I love Damian as much as Nathaniel then?"

"You were attracted to Nathaniel for a while, before the ardeur made him your leopard to call. You were never that drawn to Damian," Jason said.

"Damian is beautiful and great, and . . ."

"You don't have to defend him to us," Jason said.

"You don't like to reject anyone, do you?" J.J. said.

"It's not that exactly, it's more I like to include people, not exclude them, sort of; I don't like the idea that anyone is lonely, or sad, that I'm responsible for."

"You're not responsible for all these people, Anita," J.J. said.

"Yeah, actually, I am."

Jason reached across me to rub his hand down her arm. "Actually, she sort of is."

"Explain that to me again."

I looked at Jason; he looked at me. He shook his head. "No, there is too much, I will sum up."

She laughed. "All right, give me the short version."

"Once vampires get organized, or powerful enough in any given area, they are at the top of the food chain. They see lycanthropes as less powerful, and a master vampire's metaphysical abilities usually make that true. Jean-Claude is the first-ever vampire king of America, and that makes him the leader of all the metaphysical Americans, and Anita is his queen, so in effect she is part of the leadership of all of us, and that means she is responsible for us, all of us, in a way."

"So, you're the queen to Jean-Claude's king, I get that, but he doesn't feel as responsible for everyone's happiness as you do. He just makes sure they have a roof over their head, food, the basics; no leader is responsible for the emotional well-being of all the people that work for him. You can't be, it's not your job."

"I've tied them to me, they can't get away, and then I reject them? It's just . . . mean."

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"But you're just as trapped, Anita, and if you don't work this issue, whatever it is, that makes you feel guilty and overly responsible to them all, you're going to end up truly trapped, like forever."

J.J.'s eyes were a little too direct. I looked down and found my naked body, still sticky from Jason, with him cuddled naked beside me. He and J.J. were holding hands across my bare stomach. I looked at it all, and didn't want to have this conversation, and the moment I realized I was afraid of the conversation, was being chickenshit, I had to make myself meet that clear, blue gaze.

"There, why did you look back? You aren't happy with me, you're uncomfortable, but you're going to tough it out, right?"

"No cowardice allowed," I said.

"It's not do or die, Anita, you're just over your comfort level. It's okay not to want to look at me right now."

"Not for Anita," Jason said, drawing her over me so he could kiss her, softly.

She drew back and looked at him. "What do you mean?"

Jason looked at me. "She is one of the bravest people I know, because when she's scared, or nervous, or so uncomfortable that she wants to do anything but what she has to do, she does it anyway. She taught me that you can only truly be brave if you're afraid, that without fear there is no bravery."

"That's . . . admirable," J.J. said.

"You're going to embarrass me talking like that, Jason," I said.

"Well, you can return the favor by bragging on how amazing I am in bed."

I smiled, then laughed. "Well, you are fabulous, but I think your ego is pretty secure in this area."

"You guys are just going to change the subject, aren't you?"

"Boys," she said, and rolled her eyes.

"Hey, last I checked I'm a girl."

She grinned, eyes shining with that mischievous light that made me think so much of Jason. "Well, I have checked and yes, yes, you are a girl, most delightfully so."

I blushed again, and raised my hands as if that would hide it.

"Oh, yay, I made you blush twice!"

I glared at her, but couldn't keep the hard look going as she grinned at me, then Jason joined her, and the two of them undid me. I had to smile back.

"Damn it, you can both do that."

"Do what?" she asked.

"Make her smile when she doesn't want to," Jason said.

"We must use this power only for good, or when it's fun," she said.