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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(5) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

5
 
JEAN-CLAUDE’S PLAN TO help Damian was to have him sleep over with us and Nathaniel. He agreed that the three of us needed to strengthen our metaphysical connections with each other. Micah agreed with it, too, which was good, because one of our rules was that the core group of us, the primaries for each other, had to be okay with anything that might affect the domestic arrangement, and adding sleepovers with Damian, even without sex, would change things if it became a regular thing. You don’t think how important just sleeping together can be for pair bonding until you keep changing how you do it, and whom you do it with. Sex was so much easier than actually sleeping with your lovers.
 
It also helped that Micah had been asked to travel out of town to settle a dispute between two rival shapeshifter groups. They were afraid it would escalate to open war if they couldn’t find someone to come in and help negotiate a settlement between them. Both group leaders had invited the Coalition in, so the chances were good that Micah wouldn’t have to fight anyone to force the fighting to stop, which was great. It meant that when I kissed him good-bye, I worried less that I’d never see him again. After years of him kissing me good-bye when he didn’t know if his badge-wearing fiancée was coming home safe, it was my turn. Let me just say that turnabout was not only not fair play, but it was downright scary.
 
He had bodyguards with him, and Rafael the Rat King was going with him for a show of solidarity even though neither group were wererats, because the rats were the largest and most powerful single lycanthrope group in the United States. Rafael had done the unprecedented and forged all the rat groups into one huge rodere with one king—him. His actions had been part of what inspired Micah to make the Coalition into a governing body of the groups that either wanted to join or were too dangerous to be left unsupervised.
 
I was standing beside the big bed in a blue silk robe that touched the floor when Damian came through the door. Jean-Claude was still in the bathroom cleaning up after our date. He’d even insisted on blow-drying my hair with a diffuser so that my hair would be dry before bed, and my curls would be intact. I hadn’t been allowed to use a blow-dryer on my own hair since the infamous white man’s ’fro incident. Thanks to Jean-Claude, I stood there with every curl in place; come to think of it, the blue silk robe had been a gift from him, so it was all his doing. He’d even managed to give me a moment alone with Damian. I suddenly felt stage-managed, but it wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. Jean-Claude had lived by his social wits for too many centuries to stop now.
 
Damian hesitated just inside the door. He was wearing a green velvet-and-brocade robe long enough to hide all but the tips of his slippers. They were new, but the robe was Victorian, as in he’d bought it during that time. It had rubbed spots where the velvet had worn away, and patches where it had been repaired like a child’s much-loved stuffed toy. I knew it was something Damian wore when he was needing reassurance, like his version of our comfy clothes at the end of a hard day.
 
“How did Cardinale take the news of you sleeping over?” I asked, because I couldn’t help myself.
 
“Badly, but Jean-Claude made it an order from him, so she couldn’t refuse it, or I couldn’t refuse. When your king summons, you go and do his bidding; that she understood.”
 
“Okay,” I said, not sure if I’d really gotten an answer, but I let it go. It was too confusing to do anything else with it.
 
“I like the robe,” he said.
 
“Jean-Claude bought it for me.” I touched the sash. “He said he wanted me to expand my color range for lingerie.”
 
“Well, I approve, if my approval matters.”
 
“I’m not sure what you mean by if your approval matters. You matter, and compliments are always welcome.”
 
He smiled. “Good.” He walked toward me and looked behind me. “I take it that it’s Jean-Claude I hear in the bathroom.”
 
I couldn’t hear a thing from the bathroom, but I bowed to his superior vampire hearing and said, “Yeah, he’ll be joining us in a minute. Wait. How did you know it wasn’t Nathaniel?”
 
“He hugged me in the hallway and said he’d be there as soon as he changed from work.”
 
“There are going to be a lot of disappointed fans at Guilty Pleasures when they learn that he’s not going onstage again tonight,” I said, smiling.
 
“I’m sorry he had to cut his act short just for me,” Damian said, not smiling.
 
“Nathaniel is thrilled that we’re going to work on our triumvirate for a change.”
 
“He seemed happy about it.”
 
“He is happy about it.”
 
“But are you?” he asked.
 
“Happy about it?” I asked. “Your girlfriend almost attacked me when I hadn’t done more than shake your hand. I’m a little worried about her reaction tomorrow night.”
 
“That’s completely fair,” he said.
 
“You look like you’re about to bolt back out the door, Damian.”
 
He came to me then, looking uncertain. “We’re going to be sleeping together tonight, and we’ve been lovers, so why is this awkward?”
 
“Maybe because we were lovers, but now we’re not and we’re just sleeping together tonight and nothing else.”
 
He smiled, a little sad around the edges. “I’d be willing to do more, but I know that it wouldn’t be fair to you, or Cardinale, or maybe even to me.”
 
“If you want a clean break from Cardinale, then do that, but I won’t be the excuse for the big blowout fight. That’s on you and her, not me.”
 
“I said it wouldn’t be fair to anyone.”
 
“You did. I guess I’m just beating the point home.”
 
“I appreciate you and Jean-Claude letting me sleep with you tonight. You are both good masters and try to take care of your people.”
 
“Thanks. We do our best.”
 
We stood there, close enough to touch, but not touching, and it was those last few empty inches that screamed awkwardness. The bathroom door opened behind us; Damian looked up, but I kept looking at him. Jean-Claude said, “Have you greeted each other at all?”
 
I turned and looked at him then. “We said hello.”
 
“I know you do not kiss hello, but hugging must be allowed even by Cardinale.”
 
“I think we’ve missed the window for hugging,” I said, frowning at him.
 
“Do not frown at me, ma petite. It is you who is being silly. You have a Viking warrior in front of you, as striking and beautiful a man as Cardinale is a woman, and yet you refuse to touch him. Even friends touch more than the two of you.” He strode farther into the room dressed in his own comfort robe, but it wasn’t threadbare; it was as beautiful as all his other favorite clothes. The robe was black with more thick black fur at the lapels and sleeves. I knew the fur was even softer and more luxurious than it looked. I loved the way it framed a triangle of his chest, making it look even whiter and more perfect than it was. He’d tied the robe loosely so that it showed more of his chest, enough so the cross-shaped burn scar on his chest showed faint and darker against his skin. Some human had shoved a cross into him in a bid to survive, but I knew that long-ago person had failed. I had a cross-shaped burn scar on one arm; a vampire’s human servant had branded me with it, thought it was funny that it would make me look like holy items burned me like a vampire. I’d killed him, before his master could kill me. Jean-Claude and I had done the same thing for the same reason: If something hurts you and tries to kill you, you fight back. If something tries to kill you, you try to kill it first. Sometimes life comes down to very simple rules.
 
I looked up at Jean-Claude as he stood there motioning at Damian. I looked up into those green eyes and that face that was more perfect now than when I’d met him, because something about becoming my servant had literally changed his bone structure so he was an even more perfect, more handsome, more sexy vamp than he’d been before. I hadn’t done it consciously, but I had changed things about Damian that had been true for a thousand years, and yet I was nervous about giving him a hug. It was ridiculous when you thought about it.
 
I stepped forward and put my arms around his waist, feeling the harsher rub of the old velvet. Real velvet isn’t like the modern version; it’s not soft and squishy, more soft but rougher, but Damian was real and solid as I hugged him, and that was the point.
 
He hesitated a second, then put his arms around me. He seemed to like the way the silk slid under his hands. He looked down at me and smiled. “Greetings, my master.”
 
“Hey, Damian.”
 
We smiled at each other and hugged for real, then broke apart.
 
Jean-Claude threw his hands up at us. “You are exasperating, both of you, and where is our cat? We must to bed before dawn decides things for us.”
 
He was right. I could feel the press of it in the air even deep underground where we were. It wasn’t as easy to feel the pull of it, but sensing sunrise and sunset seemed to be a natural ability for most animators and necromancers. I’d fought many a night with dawn my only hope of surviving, and I’d had days when sunset meant the monsters would rise and eat me.
 
“We’re less than two hours out,” I said.
 
Damian shuddered.
 
I touched his arm. “It will be all right.”
 
“Enough of this,” Jean-Claude said, and took off his robe. His body looked incredibly white against the black of the robe, as if his skin were carved of marble, and he was absolutely nude. He looked like some Renaissance statue come to life, like a male version of Galatea come to make all your romantic wishes come true.
 
Damian looked at the floor as if the rug at the foot of the bed had suddenly gotten much more interesting. You’d think after a thousand years of “life” he’d be less embarrassed by nudity, or maybe it was the nudity in question. Jean-Claude could have that effect on people, or maybe it was the whole heterosexual-man-outside-the-locker-room thing.
 
“We’re just sleeping with Damian, remember?” I said, half laughing.
 
“Since I am not sleeping beside Damian but on the other side of you, ma petite, I think my lack of clothing will not infringe upon his virtue.”
 
Damian was so not looking at the other man in the room. I tried not to laugh again at his discomfort because there’d been a time when I’d have been just as uncomfortable for other reasons. I’d tried so hard not to have sex with Jean-Claude, to not let him seduce me. For Damian, nudity just wasn’t a thing that straight men did with other men much, at least not in the modern day, and Damian was very straight, much to Nathaniel’s disappointment. My happily bisexual fiancé would have loved for Damian to be at least as friendly as Richard was with Jean-Claude. Oddly, Richard was just about as heterosexual as Damian, but he did bondage with us. There were needs we met in Richard’s life and he in ours because of it. Damian was utterly vanilla—not a fault, but for the rest of us in these relationships it made it even more awkward, because we were so rocky road with extra cherries, gobs of whipped cream, and sprinkles on top.
 
Damian looked at me, and the look seemed to ask a question as I stood there in my blue robe.
 
“I’m wearing jammies, under my robe,” I said.
 
Damian smiled. “Should I say thank you, or aww?”
 
That made me smile. “Either, neither, let’s get some sleep.”
 
“We are still waiting for Nathaniel,” Jean-Claude said, “but we can get into bed while we wait.” He walked to the side of the bed nearest the outer door, which had become his side. He flung the black coverlet aside to reveal sheets the same royal jewel-tone blue as my robe.
 
“You matched my lingerie to the sheets,” I said.
 
He smiled, obviously pleased with himself, but it was as he swept back the blue sheets with a flamboyant gesture that I realized he was nervous. It had taken me years to figure out that though he could be flamboyant, it wasn’t his preference, and when he was doing it when it wasn’t necessary it meant he was nervous. Why the nerves? I wondered, as he climbed between the sheets and lay down. His long black curls spread across the pillow perfectly so that they framed his face, caressed the pale spill of one shoulder and still managed to leave half his face almost bare of hair so that the royal blue pillowcase framed the perfect line of his cheek. It also brought the blue very close to his eyes so that they went from a blue so dark as to be almost navy to suddenly a brighter blue set off by the thick black lace of his eyelashes, the perfect arch of his eyebrows. It was the kind of show he’d put on for me when he was trying to convince me just how beautiful he was, except then he’d worn pajamas, because he’d known that him nude made me run for the hills in the early days.
 
Did he want Damian to see him as beautiful, or was one of the most gorgeous men on the planet needing reassurance that I still appreciated his beauty? If it was for Damian’s benefit, that was a conversation for another night, but if it was for mine, that I could do something about. If it was something else altogether, I’d ask Jean-Claude later when we were alone. I smiled at him and let him see that I saw every bit of theatrical-worthy beauty on display in the bed. If we’d been willing to let down our metaphysical shields he could have felt exactly how much I admired the view, and I’d have known precisely what his motives were, but then Damian was my servant, as I was to Jean-Claude, so maybe we’d all have gotten a peek into each other, and that might have made Damian run for the hills, depending on what we were all thinking and feeling.
 
“You do know that one of the reasons it took so long for you to seduce me is that I just couldn’t believe that anyone as beautiful as you really wanted to date me, and not just make me another notch on their bedpost.”
 
He smiled and some tension left him, so at least part of what was going on in his head was a need for reassurance from me. I’d come into this relationship believing that someone who had been a ladies’ man for centuries wouldn’t need any reassurance. Jean-Claude had taught me that everyone needed it.
 
“There are no notches on my bedposts, ma petite.”
 
I grinned at him. “The bedposts couldn’t survive all your conquests.”
 
“There are not so many as that.” And then he laughed.
 
I felt a bubble of eagerness in my stomach, like happy butterflies. It wasn’t me. “Nathaniel is almost here,” I said.
 
The bodyguards gave a businesslike knock and opened the door for our other half, or would it be our other third, or our fourth? Nathaniel walked in wearing a pair of silky lavender sleeping shorts that fit him very nicely, so nicely that the view from the front distracted me for a minute from the rest of him, but I recovered, because it was all a nice view. His shoulders were wide, his arms well muscled, his chest deep, and his stomach flat and fit. He’d started to get a six-pack of abs, but every time he got truly cut across his abs, he lost too much of that great ass of his, and Nathaniel just didn’t look right below a certain weight. He had the Adonis belt where the line of his waist did that soft square line down along the hip, now hidden inside the silky shorts. The muscles of his thighs were impressive and so were his calves. He’d actually had to cut down on his weight lifting because he’d started to muscle up more than he wanted to for dancing onstage. Genetics would have let him muscle up in a way that the other two men in the room couldn’t. Jean-Claude and Damian both looked great, and Jean-Claude hit the gym for the same reason Nathaniel did, so he’d look great taking his clothes off onstage, but he was built long and lean like a long-distance runner or a basketball player as opposed to a football player.
 
Damian didn’t hit the gym as hard as the other two, but then he got to keep all his clothes on at Danse Macabre when he danced with customers, or his dance partners. Knowing you’re going to get nude in front of strangers was a great incentive for working out more.
 
Nathaniel’s hair was still damp from the shower, so it was a darker brown than its true red auburn color. He’d tied it back in a braid still wet, because when your hair reaches to your calves you have to braid it to sleep or you strangle yourself and your partners by the end of the night. He had an even-better-than-normal smile, so for once that dominated his face rather than his eyes. His driver’s license listed blue as his eye color, but that was only because they wouldn’t let him put down lavender or purple. The normal color was pale like lilacs, but depending on his mood, the lighting, and the color near his face, they could darken to the true purple of violets. They were almost that dark now, which meant his emotions were running high, but happy; if they’d been grape dark it would have meant he was angry. His eyes rarely got that dark.
 
His happiness was contagious, or it was to me. I felt myself smiling back at him like a mirror, and maybe there was more to that analogy than I wanted to think about since he was my moitié bête, my animal to call. He nearly bounced across the room to wrap his arms around me and lay a very thorough kiss on my mouth. I responded to that eagerness with some of my own so that the kiss grew into my hands tracing the warm muscled smoothness of his back. His hands smoothed over the silk of my robe and pressed hard enough that he probably knew what I was wearing underneath it.
 
“I’ll give you all a few minutes alone,” Damian said, and started to move toward the door.
 
We broke from the kiss and Nathaniel said, “Why do you want to leave?”
 
“Not everyone is as comfortable with physical affection as you are, notre minet.” Which meant “our kitty,” or “pussycat.” It was a term of endearment, though you had to be careful which French word you used for “cat,” because some of them in French slang meant a very different kind of pussy.
 
“I thought you might want some privacy,” Damian said.
 
Nathaniel looked genuinely puzzled.
 
“Nathaniel is an exhibitionist and a voyeur, Damian. He’s not going to understand why the kiss made you uncomfortable.”
 
Damian gave a smile that was more sad than happy. “I guess that’s true, but if you want to have sex, then I can come back.”
 
“I always want to have sex,” Nathaniel said, laughing a little as he said it, because it was pretty much true, “but I can control myself even around Anita. We’re here for you tonight, Damian, and what you need.”
 
Damian smiled, then almost laughed, and shook his head. “That means a lot to me, Nathaniel, because I know you mean it.”
 
Nathaniel stepped away from me, just trailing his hand down my arm so he kept our fingers entwined as he moved toward Damian, trailing me behind him by just our fingertips. “Of course I mean it, Damian. You’re the other third of our triumvirate. Just tell me what I can do to help you feel better.”
 
Damian gave a little laugh that seemed more nerves than anything. “If I asked you to wear something else to bed tonight, would you understand what I meant?”
 
I didn’t have to see Nathaniel’s face to know he was frowning. I could feel his confusion. “I can take off the shorts and sleep nude, but I thought you’d be more comfortable if I slept in something.”
 
Damian shook his head and smiled. “That’s not what I meant, Nathaniel. I don’t want you to wear less to bed. I’d prefer if you wore more.”
 
“More?” Nathaniel asked.
 
I wrapped my arms around his waist from behind so I could lay a light kiss on his bare back. “He means that he’d like you to wear more than just the shorts to bed tonight.”
 
He turned in my arms so he could see my face, and his expression was completely There must be some mistake. When he realized I was serious, he turned back to Damian. “I’m sorry. I don’t have anything that covers more of me that’s pajamas.”
 
“If you are protesting Nathaniel’s shorts, then you must be deeply offended by what I am not wearing,” Jean-Claude said from the bed, where he lounged like some sex god waiting for the cameras to roll. I’d have said that was just the fact that I was in love with him talking, but he really was as sexy as I thought, so said everyone else.
 
Nathaniel called out, “Jean-Claude,” as if he’d just noticed him there. He let go of me and ran to the bed. He literally launched himself into the air and landed on top of Jean-Claude, catching himself on his hands and toes so that he didn’t smack into the vampire, but was almost in a push-up over him. Only someone with Nathaniel’s dexterity could have done it without the romantically exuberant gesture going horribly wrong. I couldn’t have done it with practice runs.
 
I got to see Jean-Claude look genuinely surprised as he gazed up at Nathaniel. That alone made it worth it. “You look amazing tonight!”
 
Jean-Claude laughed, but it was a good laugh. “Thank you, pussycat. You look good enough to eat, as you always do.”
 
“If you want to take a bite out of me, just ask.” Nathaniel’s face was serious, and why not? He had become one of the master vampire’s regular feeds, just like I had. But this was the first time that Nathaniel had offered to feed him while he hovered just above the other man’s body, their faces almost touching. Nathaniel’s body was in what amounted to a plank like you did in gym, except he was doing it on a soft mattress, so that the muscles in his back, legs, and arms showed the strain of it. His ass was tight and firm, helping hold his body in place above Jean-Claude.
 
“We are supposed to be getting ready to sleep, pussycat. If I feed on you, it will not make me want to sleep.”
 
Nathaniel smiled down at him. “I’ll be good.”
 
“Of that, I have no doubt,” Jean-Claude said.
 
Nathaniel lowered his face just enough to kiss Jean-Claude. It was a chaste kiss compared to the one that he and I had just done, but there was something very erotic about them doing it with Nathaniel’s body held just above the other man’s. Jean-Claude raised a hand to caress the line of Nathaniel’s bare back, tracing the muscles that kept him so still above him. Nathaniel rolled over to one side of the bed to lay his head against Jean-Claude’s chest. The vampire did the natural movement that went with that, which was to put his arm around Nathaniel’s shoulders and hold him. He cuddled closer to Jean-Claude, snuggling into the hug. I wasn’t sure what had gotten into Nathaniel tonight. He was in a good mood, but it was mercurial, so that even I didn’t know what was coming next.
 
“As I said, before I was so delightfully interrupted, I can wear more to bed if it will help your comfort level.”
 
“If the king wants to wear nothing to bed, then that is the king’s pleasure,” Damian said, but he was uncomfortable with the pair of them cuddled up in the bed. It showed in the way he held his shoulders and how he didn’t stare too long at them. Was Nathaniel trying to make our so-heterosexual vampire more uncomfortable? That didn’t seem like something Nathaniel would do to Damian, unless I’d missed the redheaded vampire making Nathaniel uncomfortable elsewhere. Nathaniel was usually one of the nicest people you’d ever meet, but occasionally if something hit him wrong, his payback was very tit for tat. You do this to me and I will do it to you in spades. What had Damian done to make Nathaniel want to pull on this issue so hard?
 
“I do have pajamas if it would make you more comfortable tonight,” Jean-Claude said, still holding Nathaniel in the crook of his arm.
 
“You said you were sleeping on the other side of Anita.”
 
“I am.”
 
“Then what you wear, or don’t, isn’t as . . . pressing,” he said at last.
 
“They will be too long for him, but I could lend Nathaniel a pair of pajama bottoms,” Jean-Claude said.
 
“I usually sleep nude,” Nathaniel said, rubbing his cheek against Jean-Claude’s bare chest like a cat scent-marking its person.
 
“We both do,” I said.
 
“Show him what you are wearing, ma petite. Perhaps that will make our crimson-haired guest more willing to come to bed.”
 
I didn’t hesitate about it, because the way Damian was standing said in every line from shoulder to feet that he was debating leaving. I gave Damian all the eye contact I could as I dropped my robe beside Jean-Claude’s and revealed a lacy blue camisole and boy shorts that were the same royal blue as the robe.
 
“Beautiful,” Nathaniel said.
 
“Very nice,” Damian said.
 
“Thanks. Jean-Claude picked it out,” I said.
 
“I chose the color, but it is your body that turns a bit of silk and lace into something extraordinary,” Jean-Claude said.
 
I turned and started walking toward the bed, and maybe I put a little extra sway to my hips in the lacy boy shorts. I wanted Damian to want to come to bed. The men were being strangely uncooperative about it, or seemed to want to feed his straight-guy nervousness about sharing a bed with extra men. I wanted to appeal to the part of him that wanted to crawl into bed beside me, regardless of what the men were doing.
 
I looked back at Damian and did my best to put the smile he wanted to see on my face. He looked stricken, as if I’d slapped him instead of just walked away in lacy pajamas. Apparently, I looked even better in the outfit than I’d thought, or at least my ass did. I grabbed hold of one of the bedposts to help me climb up on the tall mattress. I very deliberately crawled the long way across the bed toward the other two men so that Damian got a good view.
 
“Come to bed, Damian,” I said, and turned to look over my shoulder at him, and the look on his face was everything I’d wanted it to be. Was it unfair since we weren’t going to have sex? Maybe, but if we were going to see if sleeping between Nathaniel and me could fix the whole sweating-blood-and-nightmares thing, Damian needed to get in bed with us and sleep.
 
Damian took off his robe last, laying it at the far foot of the bed, where we’d never accidentally touch it unless we grew several feet taller. When I say it’s an orgy-size bed, I’m not joking.
 
Damian was wearing pajama bottoms that looked as silky as my robe, but they were a deep red and made his upper body look almost translucently pale, as if you should have been able to see his bones move as he walked, or as if the red brought out a shine to his skin that I hadn’t noticed before.
 
“Nice color on you—the red, I mean.”
 
“Thank you,” he said.
 
“Come up on the bed so we can get some sleep,” I said.
 
“I hope I don’t sleep. I hope I just die at dawn,” he said. I had a moment of wanting to ask if he meant die at dawn to wake the next night, or just die. He’d talked about it in his office, and that was never a good thing for a person to begin to speculate about. But I didn’t ask, because some things you do not ask before bedtime, and you certainly don’t ask about death and suicide when you’re about to curl up between two walking corpses that may die with the rising of the sun.
 
Damian climbed tentatively onto the other side of the bed from us. He had to crawl a ways to reach us, and then we had another awkward moment as he stared at the three of us. The men were still cuddled up, but I was leaning against them almost like they were the back to a lounge.
 
Jean-Claude kissed Nathaniel on the forehead. “You need to sleep beside Damian, mon minet.”
 
Nathaniel kissed just above his nipple, and for a moment I know he was debating whether to kiss on it, but he just came to his knees and kissed me lightly on the mouth and moved across the bed to make room for Damian.
 
I lay down next to Jean-Claude; this would be a sort of test for me, too, because I generally put one of the other men between me and the vampire. I loved Jean-Claude to pieces, but the fact that he did usually die at dawn was unnerving to me. His body cooled as the hours passed, and sometimes I would wake from nightmares of being trapped in coffins with other vampires. I’d been a little claustrophobic thanks to a diving accident, but that first time waking up trapped in a coffin built for one but holding two, one corpse and me trapped in the dark, the other body cold and dead, and knowing that if I screamed no one was coming to help me, and I’d screamed anyway, had put the scary cherry on my phobia. So I’d earned my issues about sleeping beside vampires, but Jean-Claude and I were going to get married, so I needed to try.
 
Jean-Claude kissed my cheek as I snuggled under the covers and up against his still very warm and wonderful body. “Thank you, ma petite. I know this is trying for you.”
 
“I don’t mean to be a burden,” Damian said.
 
“It is not you that is a burden, Damian. It is any vampire that sleeps pressed against her. She finds it disturbing that we grow cooler as the hours pass until it is truly like sleeping beside the dead.”
 
Damian climbed under the covers and settled down close, but not touching me. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that was an issue for you.”
 
“You said you don’t die at dawn now, so you won’t be an issue,” I said.
 
“Aren’t we hoping that he does die at dawn and there are no nightmares because we’re here with him?” Nathaniel asked.
 
“Oui, mon minet, but perhaps saying it out loud like that to ma petite was not diplomatic.”
 
Nathaniel looked very sorry. I could feel his instant regret. “I’m so sorry, Anita. I wasn’t thinking.”
 
“It’s okay, but please start thinking more.” I wasn’t really referring to what he’d said, but more how he’d acted as if he wanted to make Damian run away from us. Nathaniel had been asking for more up close and personal with Damian for months; I didn’t understand why he wasn’t helping more now that he had the chance.
 
There was another awkward moment as we all tried to settle into sleep, but Jean-Claude was there this time and didn’t let the awkwardness grow.
 
“Damian, do you sleep on your side, your back, or your stomach?”
 
“My back, or sometimes my stomach,” Damian answered.
 
“Ma petite and Nathaniel are side sleepers. I prefer my back but we will do what we can to compromise.”
 
Jean-Claude turned off the bedside lamp and snuggled up against my back until I could feel his groin pressed against the silk-and-lace boy shorts so that I wiggled against him just a little. His upper body curled over me almost protectively, one arm holding me close against him. “It has been too long since I took blood, ma petite. You can writhe against me all you like, but I will be of no use to you.”
 
Nathaniel was on his side on the other side of Damian, who was still sitting upright.
 
“Lie down, Damian, please,” I said, and smoothed some of the covers near me.
 
He did what he was told, but he lay on his back with the arm closest to me across his stomach and the one beside Nathaniel straight at his side. Both arms were above the covers. Nathaniel and I looked across the vampire’s body at each other. Nathaniel raised his eyebrows at me, as if asking, What now? We both had our arms underneath the covers, but Damian’s arms now had them pinned so we couldn’t reach under them toward each other.
 
Most of my lovers were side sleepers or had trained up to sleep on their side after a few months. Here was a new one to try to train all over again to sleep on his side so we could spoon while we slept. I freed a hand from the covers and laid it across his bare chest. He moved under my touch, but it was like he was as afraid to touch me now as when he first came into the room.
 
“At least put a hand or arm across her, Damian.”
 
“I thought you might not want me to touch her, my king.”
 
“If I did not want you to touch her, I would not have insisted you sleep with us today.”
 
“I suppose not.” And Damian touched my hand where it lay on his chest.
 
“You have to move this arm, Damian,” Nathaniel said.
 
“Why?” he asked.
 
“Because you’ve trapped the covers, and I can’t reach across you and touch Anita without getting my arm out of the covers. I like under the covers when I sleep.”
 
Damian sighed but turned onto his stomach, with one arm tucked up under his body and the other reaching over my side, but that had him touching Jean-Claude’s bare side, and Damian pulled back.
 
“I gave you my word of honor when you first came here that I would never force myself on you. I have never given you a reason to doubt my word.”
 
“You have been a man of your word, Jean-Claude.”
 
“Then put your arm over ma petite and touch me, or not, but do not flinch every time you touch me accidentally or none of us will sleep tonight.”
 
“I’m not comfortable yet,” Nathaniel said.
 
“Then get comfortable, our pussycat.”
 
Nathaniel slid an arm across Damian’s back until he could touch me, and lightly Jean-Claude if he stretched.
 
“Damian, scoot closer to Anita, so we can all cuddle.”
 
Damian drew a breath, as if to argue, then seemed to finally give in to the whole idea. He didn’t say anything, but his arm went over me and across Jean-Claude, and then Damian snuggled in against me, pinning Jean-Claude’s arm between us. Nathaniel snuggled in tighter on Damian’s other side, throwing a leg across the other man’s legs, which pressed his body tight against Jean-Claude’s arm and Damian’s side. Nathaniel stretched out his arm across Damian’s back and finally must have put part of his shoulder on the other man’s back, because he could reach not only me but enough of Jean-Claude so he was able to wrap his hand over the other vampire’s side and hold him, too. Jean-Claude raised his arm and put it across Damian’s back and Nathaniel’s side. Now Damian could press himself closer against me. He turned a little bit on his side so that his arm and a bit of hip were propped up on me, which meant that Nathaniel pretty much rolled partially on top of him, but he didn’t protest this time. It wasn’t perfect with him on his stomach and me on my side, but as I let my hand and then my arm slide over his back, some tension in me eased. I was able to stroke Damian’s back at the same time that I could caress Nathaniel’s side, we were all so intertwined. It was always good to have Jean-Claude pressed in at my back, but there was a goodness to Damian’s and Nathaniel’s skin touching mine that wasn’t about love, but almost about need, as if I’d been needing to touch both of them together for a very long time.
 
Was this how Jean-Claude felt about sleeping with me and Richard? If so, he’d been missing it lately. I’d ask Jean-Claude later, but right now I suddenly just wanted to sleep.
 
I heard Damian’s breath go out with a long, almost contented sigh. I buried my face against his red hair and found it still damp near his scalp from the shower and smelling like clean herbs. I kept petting his back and playing along Nathaniel’s side with the same gesture. Jean-Claude held us all, and somewhere in the warmth of skin, silk sheets, and clean, damp hair, we all fell asleep. We weren’t thinking of nightmares, but that was okay, because the nightmares were thinking of us.