The Harlequin / Chapter 21-22

Chapter 21-22


Chapter Twenty-one

RICHARD WAS STARING at himself in the bathroom mirror. His big hands clung to the marble sink edge as if he were trying to leave an imprint of his hands on the stone. I'd tried to be comforting. I'd tried to be reassuring. Nothing I said had helped. Jean-Claude had been with us, but Richard truly didn't want to talk to him. He seemed to blame Jean-Claude for this new sign that his humanity was slipping away.

"The glow will fade, Richard," I said, not for the first time. Since he wouldn't let me touch him, I was left to lean against the far side of the sink and wall, arms crossed under my breasts. I'd already checked on my bra that was hanging by the towels. It was still too wet to wear.

He shook his head. "This is what my eyes would look like if I were the vampire."

I wasn't sure it was a question, but I answered it anyway. "Yes."

He looked at me, and it was unsettling to see his tanned and very alive face set with eyes that I'd only seen in the faces of the undead. It didn't match, that life and those eyes. His fear came off him in waves, so that his power bit and flitted against my skin like hot ash from a windy fire.

"You're not afraid of this. Why, why aren't you afraid of this?" he asked.

I shrugged and tried to put into words something I was trying not to think about. "I'm treating this the way I treat an emergency in the middle of a police investigation, Richard. You don't get too hung up on the horrible details or you stop being able to function. You keep moving forward, because you have to."

"This isn't your job, Anita. This isn't my job!" The air was suddenly close and hot. I was bathed in his power, and it was hard to breathe past it. The wolf that was always inside me now, stirred.

"You're going to raise my wolf, Richard."

He looked away from me, and nodded. "Mine, too."

The wolf began to pad up that metaphorical corridor inside me. I shivered and started to back away toward the door. I needed out of this hot bath of power. "You're the Ulfric, Richard. Control yourself."

He turned and looked at me through a curtain of his own thick hair. His eyes were still glowing, but now they were wolf amber, like twin suns in his face. A low, threatening growl trickled from his lips.

"Richard," and it was a whisper.

"I could make you change," he said in a voice that was more growl than word.

"What?" I whispered.

"I can force my wolves to shift. I can smell your wolf, Anita. I can smell her."

I swallowed a lump that hurt and bumped into the door. It made me jump. I hadn't realized I was that close to it. I reached back for the knob, and Richard was suddenly there, towering over me. I hadn't seen him move. Had I closed my eyes for a second? Had he played with my mind? Or had he just been that quick?

His power pressed against me like a hot mattress, like I was being suffocated by it. I managed to breathe out his name. "Richard, please."

He leaned over me, lowered that handsome face with those sundrenched eyes to my face. "Please what? Please stop, or please don't stop?"

I shook my head; I couldn't get enough air to speak. My wolf hit the surface of my body and the impact of it drove me off my feet. Richard caught me, hands on my arms, kept me on my feet. The wolf inside me started digging; it wanted out!

I tried to scream, and it was as if with every breath I was breathing in more of Richard's power. He jerked me off my feet, wrapped me against his body. I could feel something moving low in my stomach; I swear I could feel the wolf's claws digging through my flesh, trying to meet Richard's body. It was trying to get to him, trying to answer the call of its Ulfric.

The pain was incredible; it was like being ripped apart from the navel outward, like some horrible parody of giving birth. I screamed, not with air, but with my mind. I sent every metaphysical ability I had, and screamed for help.

I heard voices shouting on the other side of the door, but it was as if voices didn't mean anything to me anymore. As if it were just noise. But I could smell Richard's skin, smell the musk of the wolf inside him. He lowered his face to mine, and I smelled my skin through his mind. Soap, shampoo, the hair-care product, but underneath that was me, my skin, my scent. He drew a sharper breath, cupping his hand against my skin so the scent blew back into his face. He drew it in as if it were the sweetest of perfumes; wolf. I smelled of wolf, and forest, and pack.

The door shuddered against my back. Something heavy thudded against it. Richard picked me up, arms around my thighs, putting my upper body by his face. He didn't ask in words; he asked with his eyes, with his power, with that smell of wolf. He asked me to come to him. He called to that part of me that had stopped scratching, and was listening, smelling him. He called to the wolf inside me, in ways that my human brain couldn't even begin to understand. I was still too human to answer him in the way he wanted. Still too human, still too... human.

But the wolf wasn't human, and it answered him. It threw itself against the wall of my body, as if I were a door and all it had to do was get through it. It threw itself against my flesh, so that it staggered Richard backward into the room as he tried to hold me, while the wolf tore at me. His power pressed down my throat like a hand that was trying to help the beast, and stole my air, my words.

It was as if hot, burning liquid ran through my veins. I burned with it, but I knew what that heat was: beast, wolf. I knew now why the lycanthropes ran hot close to the moon; they were burning up with their beast. It was a new pain, a pain that my wolf and I shared, as if she was burning up, too.

I didn't know the door had burst inward. The first hint I had that the guards were in the room was them standing around us. I couldn't hear anything but the pounding of blood and heartbeats in my head. They pulled at Richard, tried to tear me out of his arms, and he wouldn't let me go. Finally a fist smashed into his face, blood ran in a crimson wash, and his beast poured over him, and me.

The fire poured out from underneath my nails. I raised my hands in front of my face, wondering how fire was pouring out from underneath my nails, but it was blood. Blood pouring like burning rain from underneath my nails.

Richard's body like thick water against me, fur flowed, muscles shifted, and it was as if his beast was tied to mine, so that as he shifted, he was dragging my wolf with him. Dragging it in blood and fire, out of my body. I would have done anything, agreed to anything, if the pain would only stop. I wasn't thinking that if I shifted, I would lose my leopards. I wasn't thinking that if I shifted Richard would win. I wasn't thinking anything but Make it stop, please, God, make it stop! If someone had said the only way to make it stop was to be a wolf, I wouldn't have argued. I'd have grabbed it. Just make it stop!

I felt Jean-Claude's power, felt it like a cool soothing wind. I still hurt; the wolf was still there trying to fit all that tooth and claw into my smaller body, but it was better. I could hear again, and what I heard was chaos. Screams, shouts, Claudia's voice above the rest, "Ulfric, don't do this!"

Jean-Claude's voice floated through my head, and through Richard's, because Richard had tied us that close. "My marks keep her human, Richard; all you can do is destroy her."

Richard bellowed, "She's mine!" He was standing over me. I didn't even remember being on the floor. Richard wasn't human anymore. He was that movie wolfman, except that his fur was the color of cinnamon, and he was very male, not that smooth sexless Barbie-doll look from the movies. From my angle everything about him looked monstrously large. Partly the angle, and partly the pain.

The wolf inside me stretched my body, trying to force claws out from under my nails. Trying to stretch more body out than I had to give it. I had air now, thanks to Jean-Claude, and I used it to scream. I finally screamed the pain, shrieked it, and somehow it helped. I was still human, I could still speak. I screamed, "Nooo!"

Clay appeared above me, face scared. "Give me your wolf, Anita."

A clawed hand appeared and jerked him back, out of sight. Richard had pulled him back. "No," he growled, "no, my pack does not stop this."

"Not your pack," Jean-Claude's voice now, in the room somewhere, "my pack, for all that is yours is mine; by vampire law, they are my wolves, not yours."

I turned my face and saw him in the doorway. He stood there, beautiful, cold, his eyes glittering with that cool fire. I reached out to him with my bloody hands. I screamed, "Help me!"

Richard was suddenly airborne. Too quick for the bodyguards, too quick for anyone. He hit Jean-Claude, and they both rolled out of sight into the bedroom beyond.

Clay was back at my side. He was bloody, and I couldn't tell if he was wounded or had just gotten blood on him. "Give me your beast," he said.

He was disobeying a direct order from his Ulfric. But in that moment I didn't care. I grabbed his arm, and he pressed himself to my mouth, let me kiss him. More than ever before I felt the wolf pour out of my mouth. I choked on fur and blood and things that couldn't be real. I choked, and Clay stayed pinned to me while his body struggled to get away. He forced himself to stay against me, forced his body to take my beast, but it hurt too much not to struggle. I knew now just how much it hurt, and I was sorry, but I didn't stop.

His body exploded above mine; wet, thick things covered my eyes, and only my hands told me that fur and muscle were above me now. My body still ached, but the wolf was gone, gone like a hole in my heart, an empty space where something should have been.

Someone else's hand smoothed the gunk from my eyes so I could blink up into Rafael's face. He was crying. I'd never seen him do that. It scared me. What would make Rafael cry? What was happening?

Gunshots exploded in the other room, so loud, so horribly loud. I sat up and fell back down. "Help me," I said to Rafael.

He picked me up, as if I were a child, and carried me to the other room. I didn't protest, I would have been too slow; but what I saw in the bedroom said that we'd all been too slow.

The first thing I saw was Jean-Claude sitting on the floor, his white shirt in bloody tatters, blood trickling from his mouth. The guards were standing in a semicircle with guns out. Richard's wolf form was crouched at the center of that circle. I could see his heart thudding frantically in the open air. It was a killing wound, but he still crouched there, growling at them. I could see him about to spring, and I knew that the guards wouldn't let that happen. It was one of those moments when everything slows down, when the world becomes crystal-edged, the colors brighter, the edges of everything sharper; you see everything in painful clarity. Seconds to see my world about to go up in flames.

Jean-Claude's voice whispered through my head, "I am sorry, ma petite, there is no time." I thought he was apologizing for the fact that they were going to shoot Richard, until I felt his power. It didn't wash over me, it didn't press against me like Richard's had; his power simply was there and did what it wanted. I felt it almost like a series of tumblers in a lock: click, and he took Richard's blood lust, like a cup in his hand; click, and he turned that blood lust into another kind of lust; click, and he spilled it into me.

There was a blink, where I saw Richard's head go down, watched his body begin to change back to human. Knew they wouldn't have to shoot him now. A blink, to be relieved, then the ardeur ripped through me as surely as the beast had done earlier. My body forgot that it hurt. My body forgot that it was bloody and aching. My body forgot everything except one thing. The ardeur did what it always did: it washed over the man I was touching and carried him away with me. I was already on the floor with him on top of me before I remembered who I'd be looking up at. Rafael, the rat king, who was going to get to be food after all.

Chapter Twenty-two

RAFAEL CARRIED ME out to the hallway with my legs wrapped around his waist, my arms around his shoulders, my mouth feeding at his. He stumbled at the door and almost fell, having to catch his hands on the doorjamb. He put a hurried hand around me, but he was in no danger of dropping me. He'd have had to pry me off him for me to fall. I was drowning in the taste of his mouth, the scent of his skin. He smelled smoky, not like cigarettes, but wood smoke, and salt, like some food that had been smoked and salted, until the meat was flavored and tender and so ready to eat. I felt his need. I just knew that it had been a long time for him. So much need, so much power, so long denied. He was a feast waiting to be eaten. The last wasn't my thought. We fell against the wall outside the door. The sensation of him falling against me, bruising me into the wall, made me cry out. He leaned heavier against me and even through our clothes I could feel him hard and ready. I cried out again and pressed myself against him, but there were too many clothes in the way. I moaned into his mouth, too eager for words.

Rafael tore himself from my lips. He used one hand to keep my face from touching his so he could look into my eyes. "Your eyes," he whispered, "like blue fire." Blue, but my eyes were brown, I thought. Then Jean-Claude's power washed the hesitation away. He filled my head as he filled my eyes. It was my mouth but Jean-Claude's words that said, "A fire that burns just for you, Rafael, just for you." In that moment it was true. We wanted only Rafael, needed only him.

I felt him fall into our eyes. There was a moment when he swayed forward, his hand catching on the stone wall behind me. He stared into our eyes, and his face didn't smooth out and become empty, waiting for orders like every other vampire victim I'd seen - no, his face filled with need, want; months, years, of denial, all there in his face and a heartbeat later it was in his hands where they tore my shirt. His mouth fed at my breasts, biting, sucking, rough enough that he drew back and tried to fight clear of our power. A small spark inside him was afraid he'd hurt us. We laughed, and it was an odd mixture of Jean-Claude and me, so that for a moment my laugh slithered over Rafael's body and made him shiver. I bit his neck, sudden and sharp, digging my teeth into that smooth, dark flesh. He balled his hand in my hair and pried me off him. His neck bled where I'd bitten him. He drove his mouth into mine, so hard that teeth grazed on teeth. He kissed me with tongue and lips until he ate the taste of his own blood from my mouth.

He ripped my jeans apart at the seam. My body jerked with the strength of it. The sensation of the heavy cloth tearing around my body brought a small noise from me. My panties ripped and again the feel of it made me cry out. I ground myself against the front of him, but all I could touch was cloth. That hard, eager flesh was still out of reach.

I cried my frustration and he fumbled at his belt, one-handed. He was making small, frustrated noises by the time he got the belt open, the pants unbuttoned. But I was too tight against him for him to unzip.

"Climb me," he said, in a voice choked with need.

I managed to say, "What?" before his hands showed me what he wanted. He lifted me up a little higher on his body. I used my hands and arms on his broad shoulders to help climb a little higher. I wrapped my legs higher on his body, so he was left to unzip without seeing what he was doing, his hands feeling around my naked ass as he tried to free himself of his pants. He made a sound that was half shout and half word. I think the word was Please, but I wasn't sure.

The tip of him brushed along my bare skin, and I let my body slide those few inches lower, so he could guide himself to my opening. It was not a good angle for the first time; we didn't know the exact angle to have without being able to see what we were doing. He made a small inarticulate sound, then I felt the head of him enter me. I froze with him barely breaking the surface of my body. Froze so he could push his way inside. He hesitated in the middle of that first thrust, stopped with most of him still outside me. His body shuddered, his hands balancing against the wall, and the other hand finally free to touch my body again. His eyes closed as he traced his hand up my nearly bare back. He whispered through gritted teeth, "So tight, so wet. I won't last long."

Normally, longer was better, but in that moment I knew that we needed to feed. Jean-Claude let me know that we needed this energy. We needed him to give us what he had to give.

"Fuck me," I said, and drove my body down the length of his, and found there was even more of him than I'd thought. When he was pressed as tight as I could make him, it was my turn to close my eyes and shudder. My turn to whisper, "Fuck me, Rafael, feed me, fuck me, Rafael, feed me!"

With every word I drove my body up and down on his, drove him in and out of me. The angle was not the best for me to move without his help, but with the last word, he used his hands to cup my ass and drive my body into the stone wall with one hard thrust of his body. He drove himself into me over and over, grinding me into the stones, and the roughness of the stones. It was what I wanted, too.

I wanted him to take me, to drive all that need, all that denial into my body. The ardeur tried to feed, but he was a king and it could not get past his shields. A tiny thought of panic from Jean-Claude, quickly swallowed, but he was urgent that we break Rafael. I might have protested, but the ardeur was all I could feel, and it wanted to break him.

Rafael was so hard, so very hard, the kind of hard a man only gets when he's denied himself a very long time. He drove all that hard, long length into and out of me, fast and faster, hard and harder. His breathing changed, and I said, "Yes, yes, please, Rafael, please."

Part of that please was, Please let us feed, let us in, drop all that protection, let us in, let us in. I tried to find a rhythm, but his body, his hands, pinned my lower body against the wall. He would do the work; he didn't want the help. Thrust after hard thrust and I felt my body filling up with the pleasure of his body pounding inside mine, his hands so strong, pinning me, his body as hard and eager inside me as any man I'd ever felt. And just like that, the pleasure took me, brought me, brought me screaming, clawing, biting. Brought me writhing and dancing around him. He cried out and his body gave one last deep thrust that made me scream again. He shivered against me, eyes fluttering, and his shields crashed down. The ardeur fed on his body, on the warmth of him inside me, on his need, and his release. In the midst of that pleasure that made me tear Rafael's skin and cry out as his body spasmed inside mine, I felt Jean-Claude.

He'd chosen Rafael because he was king and through their king we could feed on his people. Jean-Claude reached through Rafael's body, our bodies, to the wererats. As we'd fed once on Augustine and his people, now we fed on Rafael and his. I felt Claudia stagger, felt Lisandro fall to his knees, felt the wererats try to run, or fight, or keep us out, but they couldn't. They'd given their protection over to their king; when he fell, they were ours. Ours for the taking, ours for the raping, ours for the eating. We fed, and fed, and fed; some faces I knew, some faces I didn't. They became a blur of startled eyes and upturned faces. We fed on them all.

Rafael felt what was happening and tried to protect them, to fight us, but it was too late. His body was married to mine and all that hard-won control was gone inside my body in the feel of his hands on me.

Jean-Claude took that power and threw it into our vampires, all those in the city who owed their life spark to his power as Master of the City. He forced them all awake, some ten hours or more earlier than they'd ever woken from death. I didn't understand why he'd used the power for that, until when the last vampire had come clawing to wakefulness, he let the power go back to him, and Richard, and he let me feel how terribly hurt they were. He'd used the power to force the lesser vampires awake, because if he lost consciousness he was afraid he would drain them of power and they would all die for good. He was afraid that he would drain them dry through his ties as Master of the City, in much the same way we'd been able to feed on Rafael's rats, except the vampires would die.

I couldn't breathe, my heart was touching stone, and I couldn't breathe. Richard's body, oh, God, oh, God, he was dying. Jean-Claude tried to heal him, and that forced me to feel what Richard's claws had done to the vampire's body. His heart stuttered, hesitated. Sweet Jesus, no, Richard had stabbed him in the heart. Jean-Claude fed the power we'd taken into their injuries, and it should have been enough, but it was as if there was something in Richard's injuries that ate the power, but didn't heal him. I saw something like a shadow on Richard's back.

Jean-Claude whispered, "Harlequin."

We were dying; my chest squeezed tight and tighter. I couldn't breathe. I only half-felt when Rafael lowered me to the floor and tried to get me to say something to him. I used my last bit of air to whisper, "Help us."

Rafael said, "Anything." His shields were still down. I took their energy again, but not to feed, to strike out.

Jean-Claude cried out in my mind, "Non, ma petite" But it was too late; with my last thought, before darkness swallowed us all, I took the power of Rafael and the wererats and I struck out at that phantom on Richard's back. If I could have thought clearly, I might have thought, Die, but the darkness was eating us, and all I had time to do was strike. I saw her - no, them - two cloaked figures in a dark room, a dark hotel room. Two white masks lay beside them on the bed. One sat, the other knelt behind her. They were both petite and dark-haired. They looked up, startled, as if they could see me and what came with me. I got a good look at the pale, upturned faces, the long brown hair, one a shade darker than the other, one with brown eyes, one gray, both glowing with power. They'd combined their powers; somehow they'd combined to hit us. I don't know what they saw, but they both cried out. The kneeling one tried to shield the other with her body, and then the power hit them. It sent them crashing to the floor, and into the night-stand. The lamp fell over on top of them and shattered. It knocked over the phone and a notepad. I read the name of the hotel on the notepad. I knew where they were. They fell into a heap and didn't move again. My last waking thought was, Good.

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