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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(10) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

DAMIAN STARTED TO turn on the shower, but I did the math in my head and said, “This is a regular-size shower. The three of us will never fit in here.”
Damian looked at me, and he looked more woebegone than he might have with the blood drying on his face. “I can clean up here and the two of you can use your shower.”
Nathaniel said, “Why don’t the three of us go down to our shower since it’s bigger?”
I nodded. “That was what I was trying to suggest.”
“Was it really?” he asked.
“Yes, really; we’ve all three just had a horrible nightmare and some not unhorrible side effects,” I said, looking down at the blood that was beginning to stick more and more to the once very nice lingerie and to my skin. “I think none of us would want to be alone right now.”
“I do not,” Damian said.
“I almost never want to be alone,” Nathaniel said, and grabbed Damian’s hand and led him toward me. He pushed me ahead of them through the door to find Bobby Lee and Kaazim standing near the bed, where they could see into the bathroom and maybe sit down on the bed.
“Is something wrong?” Kaazim asked.
“The shower is too small,” Nathaniel said, and continued to herd the two of us toward the door. Bobby Lee had to hurry to open it before we got there.
I started to laugh. “What’s the rush?”
“Don’t you want to clean the blood off you?” he asked.
“Then no time like the present.”
I frowned at him and glanced at Damian, who gave me a look that seemed to say he had no idea what the rush was either. Bobby Lee led the way back down the hallway to Nathaniel’s, Micah’s, and my room. Kaazim brought up the rear. We were suddenly back to the room that we had just passed by minutes before.
Bobby Lee opened the door, and Nathaniel led both of us through and damn near pulled us toward the bathroom. Our room was a mix of personalities; three walls were a pale green and the fourth was a dark lavender, almost a purple. It was the wall that the head of the bed sat up against. The king-size bed was covered in a green-and-purple paisley bedspread, which had been a compromise with the peacock-patterned one that Nathaniel had wanted. I’d thought the paisley would look terrible, but it actually looked nice. Purple, green, and teal pillows of various sizes were artfully tossed around the bed. A stuffed toy penguin sat amid the peacock-colored cushions. The toy didn’t match the bed, but it was Sigmund who had been my comfort object long before I met any of the men in my life. There were more penguins in the far corner on and around a chair. It was half my penguin collection; the other half stayed in the house in Jefferson County. Sigmund was the only one that traveled back and forth with me from the Circus to the house. I rarely actually slept with him in the bed anymore, because with two or more people there just wasn’t room for him, but I liked knowing he was wherever I was staying the night.
There was a collage of pictures up on one wall, because we had more wall space here than at the house. The pictures were mostly candid shots of all of us, and when I say all of us, I mean all. Almost everyone we were sleeping with or had a strong connection to was somewhere in the framed photos. There had been pictures of Micah’s family on the wall, but I had protested that it felt weird having sex while his parents and siblings were looking at us, so he’d moved those to stand-up frames in the living room of the Jefferson County house. There were also pictures of the two of us as small children mixed in with his family there, and even a few of my own family, though those had been added under protest. Nathaniel had no family pictures to add, and no pictures of him as a child either. He’d run away from home with nothing but the clothes he was wearing. He’d been seven when his stepfather beat his older brother, Nicholas, to death in front of him. His brother’s dying words were to tell Nathaniel to run, so he had. I knew he regretted not having a picture of his brother or his mother, who died of something that he thought had been cancer, but he’d been so little when it happened he wasn’t sure. I knew he regretted not having childhood photos to add to the collections that had been his idea to put up in the first place.
There was a bookshelf underneath the pictures. It held mostly children’s books, because that was what we read to each other most. We’d started reading to each other when Nathaniel had said that he’d never had anyone read him Charlotte’s Web, which was one of my favorites, or Peter Pan, which had been one of Micah’s. We’d since moved on to other things, adding a few adult mysteries like the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout, and the Spenser books by Robert B. Parker, and even a few Louis L’Amour Westerns, which had been a favorite of my father and Micah. We were currently reading One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith to each other. The book was much better than the movie, though Micah and I had been out of town so much lately that we might have to start over from the beginning, just to get the rhythm of the book again.
There was a small mostly teal rug just in front of the bookcase, and a much larger square rug across most of the middle part of the room that was all shades of purple with some black in it. The rug we were currently standing on was mostly green with purple here and there. I’d thought the different-colored rugs would have clashed, but it all worked together somehow. The color coordinating had all been Nathaniel. Micah was partially color-blind and I had no sense of how to mix patterns in a room.
“I bet your closet isn’t just Anita’s clothes,” Damian said.
“We share the closet,” I said.
“It is bigger than a normal one, though, so it’s easier to share,” Nathaniel said, and went across the room to open the door and show that we actually had a small walk-in closet, making ours one of the few rooms with one. Though we were negotiating with the same contractor to see if the stone walls in Jean-Claude’s bedroom would stand up to being drilled out of the solid rock like this one had been.
“This is what a couple’s room is supposed to be like; you can see bits of all three of you here.”
I hadn’t thought about it when we decided to change rooms and apparently neither had Nathaniel, because he hugged Damian, and he said, “You will never let another partner control you like that.”
“I don’t know how to interact with a woman who doesn’t control me.”
We looked at him, but he seemed to be serious. “So the fact that Anita doesn’t want to control you must bother you, a lot,” Nathaniel said.
“I think it does.”
I glanced behind to find that Bobby Lee and Kaazim were finding places to stand that would let them see into the bathroom. We hadn’t fixed my issues with being watched in the shower, but I was getting too tired to care as much. The nightmare had cut our sleep short by hours, and I was finally beginning to feel it. Raising zombies took energy and I hadn’t eaten breakfast, not even coffee yet. I was suddenly hungry.
“I’m hungry.”
“Showers, sex, feed the ardeur, and then we’ll get real food,” Nathaniel said.
“I’m not sure I agreed to actual sex,” I said.
“You didn’t feed the ardeur last night,” Nathaniel said.
“Damn, I didn’t. That’s why I’m so hungry.”
Bobby Lee said, “Are you really going to feed the ardeur, Anita?”
“I think I have to; it’s like Jean-Claude’s bloodlust, or your own hunger for flesh; if you feed it before it gets too bad you have more control over it. I don’t think any of us want me losing control of the ardeur.” It was the power that allowed Jean-Claude to feed off the lust of the customers at Guilty Pleasures, and to feed through actual sex when he was with his lovers, including me. It was part of the gift of his original bloodline from Belle Morte, but our version of it wasn’t just lust but seemed to have more love mixed in with the lust than Belle did with hers. I’d inherited the power from Jean-Claude. Now, when I didn’t feed it often enough my ability to heal most injuries began to go back to human-normal. My healing abilities had saved my life more than once.
“Then Kaazim and I will wait closer to the door.”
“Jean-Claude was very clear that we are not to leave them unsupervised,” Kaazim said.
“That was when they were just having sex. The ardeur can spread through a room unexpectedly. I don’t want to be anyone’s food.”
“Nor anyone’s sex slave,” Kaazim added.
“I resent that. I do not make people into sex slaves.”
“I don’t know, Anita,” Nathaniel said. “I crave your sex all the time.”
“You crave sex all the time.”
He smiled. “That, too, but my therapist says I’m officially not addicted to it anymore.”
“Good to know and yay, you,” I said, and meant it.
“I like sex a lot, but now I am a recovering addict. I thought sex was my only value to anyone, so I offered the only thing I thought I was good for, which was sex.”
I touched the side of his face that wasn’t covered in blood and smiled up at him. “You are so much more than just sex to me.”
“I know that; that’s part of what helped me figure it all out,” he said, pressing his hand over mine.
“Once we feel the ardeur rise, we’ll be outside the door,” Bobby Lee said.
I looked at him and Kaazim. They both looked nervous. I would have said that nothing could have spooked the two of them, but this had. “You know that I can’t really make anyone my sex slave, right?”
“Has anyone who has had sex with you wished to stop?” Kaazim asked.
“Since you acquired the ardeur as a power?”
I started to say Sure, then had to stop myself. Damn it, I think he was right. “I don’t know. I . . . I guess not.”
“Then we will wait outside once you raise that particular power,” he said.
I was out of arguments that made any sense, so I stopped trying to argue. A few years back I’d have argued until either we had a fight or the cows came home, but therapy had helped me realize that I could just let some things go. I let this go and let them stand by the door, which meant now they couldn’t see in the bathroom at all. My modesty was saved.