Oh God. I was crying again. I thought after Phillip was born that this hormonal stuff would go away. So far it wasn’t. Or maybe I was just turning into a softie. Nope, I was betting on hormones. I’m fairly sure I’d become a complete sociopath before I voluntarily watch anything on Lifetime.
I sat on my white couch, complete with colorful pillows ala Jean-Claude and looked at the box in my lap. It was from Edward. He’s given me a lot of really wonderful toys, my favorite being a Mini-Uzi. This present, however, was completely unexpected. It was a mobile for Phillip’s crib. It was beautiful. Tiny little penguins ice skated around one another. It was delicate and fine and I was totally unprepared for it, given Edward’s violent distaste for the father of my child.
I looked at Jean-Claude with tears streaming down my face. Defiantly, I wiped them away with the backs of my hands. “I’m fine,” I said firmly.
He smiled and returned his attention to Phillip. They were both laying on the floor on my beautiful Persian carpet, another present from the father of my child. Jean-Claude was making an attempt to play with the baby, but mostly they were just watching each other. If it had been any other vampire, I wouldn’t have allowed it. Master vampires can roll you with their eyes, use a kind of hypnosis that leaves you completely vulnerable to their suggestions. Of course, I was fairly sure you had to have some sense of self for that to work. I had my doubts about someone who couldn’t sit up by themselves being too terribly sentient. Still, Phillip lay there, cuddled in his father’s arms, and met his gaze, blinking slowly like a tired little kitten.
As a rule, babies don’t do that. I’d spent enough time sitting in pediatricians’ offices in the last six weeks to know that most children Phillip’s age eat, cry, poop, sleep and squirm. Not a lot else. Most of the time, that’s what Phillips did as well, but when Jean-Claude was around, he was different. It was like they were listening to music I couldn’t hear. Bully for them. Me jealous? Never.
Asher sat down on the sofa next to me and I let him take the box. Very carefully, he placed it on the end table, like he knew how much it meant to me. He stretched his arm out on the back of the couch. I sighed and leaned into him, resting my head against his chest, my hand against his heart. He was warm and his heart thudded under my hand. He placed a gentle kiss on the top of my head.
I can’t really explain my relationship with Asher. Mostly, it’s based on a shared past we don’t actually have, but it’s more than that as well. Asher is a beautiful man, with blue eyes so pale they’re almost white and hair like spun gold, rich and metallic and begging to be touched. Sometimes my body gets tight and hot just looking at him. But a couple hundred years ago, some religious fanatics tried to burn the vampirism out of him. As a result, he is badly scarred, his face, his chest, his legs. Large parts of his skin look like melted candle wax. It doesn’t bother me. I have scars as well and besides, I’m a hair and eyes kinda girl and he has those in spades.
When we first met, Asher wanted me to be horrified by his body. He wanted to terrify and hurt me; in return hurting Jean-Claude. Asher blamed Jean-Claude for the death of his human servant (and their shared lover), Julianna. But I wasn’t terrified by Asher. More than anything I was overwhelmed by his pain. Looking at him, I felt nothing but regret and the desire to comfort. Initially, those emotions were Jean-Claude’s not mine. He marked me and as a result, our emotions bleed over one another. Now, I wasn’t so sure whose feelings were whose. I knew my affection for Asher was rooted in Jean-Claude’s love for him, but more than a little of it was my own.
For what it’s worth, after I refused to reject him, Asher and Jean-Claude reconciled. Asher was now second banana in St. Louis, Jean-Claude’s vampire lieutenant. Asher could have been a master vampire of his own territory, but he chose to stay close. I trusted Asher. He was the only vampire I knew who had ever chosen comfort over power.
Asher and I watched Jean-Claude and Phillip. “You have given him something he never thought to have, Anita,” Asher said.
I snorted. “Yeah,” I said, “I bet he never thought he was going to be changing diapers.”
Jean-Claude turned and gave me a displeased look, like he was some street hood and I was ruining his street cred. Too bad. I’m about equality and I didn’t give a shit if Jean-Claude had been raised in a time where children were solely a woman’s responsibility. He changed dirty diapers or he didn’t get to see his son. No one could accuse me of being a push over.
Asher laughed lightly and it rumbled in my ear, rich and warm with a texture you wanted to reach out and wrap yourself in. “Yes, there is that,” he said, “but I meant something a bit more intangible.”
I pushed myself into a sitting position and looked at him. “Like what?” I was truly curious. Jean-Claude and Asher were so similar at times. If anyone knew what my lover was really thinking, it was Asher.
Asher’s lips pressed into a wry smile. “Humanity, Anita. You have given mon amour back a part of his humanity.”
Jean-Claude didn’t look at us. I, personally, was shocked by his lack of reaction. We were having a conversation about him like he wasn’t even there. It would have pissed me off. But maybe Asher was right. Maybe Jean-Claude just couldn’t tell me himself what Phillip meant to him. Maybe that was between him and Phillip.
Jean-Claude rolled over onto his back, bringing the baby with him and settling him against his chest. As a rule, Phillip doesn’t like to be cuddled by anyone other than his parents. He didn’t protest the move. They both looked at me, or rather Jean-Claude looked at me and Phillip’s head was turned in my general direction as he chewed on his little pink fist. It was an amazing sight. Jean-Claude’s long, curling black hair fanned out over the colorful carpet, his midnight blue eyes boring into me. He was wearing one of his high collared shirts. It was black silk and accentuated the alabaster quality of his skin. Phillip lay on his chest, clothed in a velveteen jumper, the same midnight blue as his beautiful, big eyes.
I can’t honestly imagine Jean-Claude buying baby clothes, but he did. Personally, I didn’t want to know where he got them. I’d warned him that my son was not wearing any leather until he was old enough to drive. Jean-Claude merely laughed at me. The next day, I found this tiny and surprisingly tasteful little leather jacket hanging in my closet.
The sight of them together made my heart ache. Phillip’s hair is a downy black mass that promises to be as curly as his parents’ one day. I looked at my son day in and day out, trying to find some reflection of myself. I couldn’t. He was all Jean-Claude. Aside from the size difference – the doctor’s assured me that barring accident or severe malnutrition, Phillip would top out at somewhere around six-four – they were so alike. Of course, Phillip can play in the sun at high noon. Jean-Claude can’t do that. Maybe there is some of me in him.
“Did he?” I asked Jean-Claude.
“Give me back my humanity?” he asked, holding out a finger which Phillip immediately latched on to and started to gum.
“Yes,” I said.
I sat up straighter on the couch. When Phillip sucked on your fingers like that, it meant he was hungry. I hadn’t really given much though to breast feeding until I was jumped by the lactation consultant at Mercy. I was still feeling so guilty about Nathaniel, and she went on and on about how good it is for their little brains. I wanted to give Phillip the best didn’t I? So now I was breastfeeding, though I didn’t go to La Leche League meetings anymore. Once was enough. I dealt with monsters every second of the day, and those women scared the shit out of me. So now I was Anita Blake, Vampire Executioner, Animator, breastfeeding mother. What could I say? It beat the hell out of having to get up in the middle of the night and warm up a bottle. When I finally went back to work, it might be a different story. Breast pumps scare me.
Jean-Claude sat up, like a puppet pulled by strings. He gave Phillip to me. I put my hand under my shirt, opened the cup on my maternity bra and snuggled the baby close. The hem of my polo shirt rested against his cheek. Phillip latched on immediately, greedily sucking. I was getting good at this. I could breast feed in a room full of people and not flash anyone. Maybe there was hope for me yet. Riiight.
Jean-Claude watched his son. “Yes,” he said quietly. “I never though to be a part of it again.”
“Part of it?” I parroted, frowning.
“Life, ma petite,” he explained. “I feed off of it, but I do not participate. I never dreamed that I would be able to contribute to humanity.”
“Oh.” So I’m not eloquent. Sue me.
Silence descended until all you could hear were Phillip’s suckling noises. Jean-Claude watched me so intently that I had to look away, blushing. Asher met my gaze, unembarrassed. He didn’t seem to think anything was odd in watching his former lover’s new lover breastfeed their child. Maybe that wasn’t it. Jean-Claude was Master. Asher probably just went along with anything he did. If I kept telling myself that, maybe one day I would start to believe it.
Phillip’s suckling slowed and I glanced back to Jean-Claude. He was still sitting on the floor, propped gracefully on one arm as he watched me. I couldn’t help but notice how nicely his leather pants molded to his long, slender legs.
He took a deep breath and looked at me. His eyes darkened perceptibly. His gaze flicked to Asher. There was no communication that I could discern, but Asher rose from the couch and left the room, headed for my basement. Zane was down there, along with Cherry. My constant guardians. Damian and a couple of Jean-Claude’s fanged muscle were outside watching the house. We weren’t alone, but we were alone enough.
Jean-Claude rose to his feet as gracefully as he did everything else. He held a hand out to me. “Ma petite?”
Phillip was asleep. I carefully pulled him away and snapped the cup on my bra closed. My hands were shaking. I let Jean-Claude help me up as I cradled Phillip in the crook of my arm. Hand in hand, we walked down the hall to my bedroom. There was a crib against the wall near my bed. Phillip had never spent a night in it. He only used it for naps. At night, he slept with me. Carefully, I put him down in the crib.
Jean-Claude was standing behind me, so close that the front of his thighs brushed against me. My breathing was fast, almost ragged. He leaned forward and pulled the light blanket over his son’s sleeping body, gently running his hand over the tiny little head. His free arm wrapped around my waist, pulling me back against his body. I relaxed against him, resting the back of my head against his shoulder. His other arm joined the first, enveloping me in a hug and he held me close, his breath tickling warmly against my ear.
“You saw your physician this week?” he asked, though I knew he already knew the answer.
I licked my lips. “Yes,” I answered.
“And you are ... well?” he asked.
He was excited. I could feel the length of him hardening against the small of my back. I shivered. “She said I could resume marital relations,” I said.
He chuckled, his voice and ever so sensual against my skin. “You are not married, ma petite,” he breathed.
I twisted in his grip until we pressed together, front to front. I pulled his head down, attacking his lips with my own. I didn’t want to talk about marriage. We’d never spoken of it before. He’d never proposed, though I expected it was mostly because he knew I would say ‘no’. Good little former Catholic or not, I was not marrying the father of my child. He was a vampire. I was a vampire executioner. My hypocrisy knew some bounds.
His mouth opened against mine and I pressed my tongue between his lips, exploring his taste. In the last year I’d gotten damn good at French kissing my French vampire. He let out a low moan and twined his fingers through my hair, pulling me closer. I was on tiptoe, pressed as tightly against him as I could get, my fingers dug into his shoulders.
God, I’d forgotten this. I’d forgotten how much I loved the taste and texture of his body, how much I craved the silken feel of his skin against mine. It had been months since we’d done this, long before Phillip was born. I let out a moan of my own and blindly unbuttoned his shirt. He helped and soon it was on the floor in a pool.
I pulled back, breaking the kiss and taking a deep breath. Our eyes met and his were solid midnight blue. His mouth was open slightly and he panted. I grinned at him the way a cat grins at a wounded bird. He didn’t run. I leaned forward, attacking his chest with my lips, teeth and tongue. I pulled his taut flesh between my teeth and worried his perfect skin. I laved the cross shaped scar on his chest with my tongue. He gasped, using his hand on the back of my head to hold me against him. I suckled and bit and licked until he was trembling against me. I was trembling too. Lust is a wonderful thing.
I pulled away from him, taking half a step back. He looked at me with dark eyes, waiting to see what I would do. I touched his neck and he shuddered, his eyes never leaving mine. I ran my hand down his chest, my fingernails digging in hard enough to leave marks, but not hard enough to break the skin. He didn’t complain. I traced down his midline, down his abs until I was gripping the top of his leather pants.
“Off,” I said. I stepped away from him, backing up until my knees hit the bed. I sat down and watched him.
He held my gaze as his hands reached for the fastenings on the pants, but I couldn’t return the favor. My eyes wandered down his chest to follow the movements of his long, white fingers. He popped the button. The zipper hissed as he slid it down. He wasn’t wearing anything underneath the leather. I smiled.
He pushed the pants down his legs until they puddled on the floor and then stepped out of them. He stood there, looking at me. He was nude, erect and unashamed, presenting himself for my appraisal. I sat there, fully dressed. There was something powerful in the realization that the other person is defenseless while you’re still guarded. Jean-Claude would never be defenseless, but it was still a seductive illusion.
Graceful as a cat, he walked over to me and knelt between my legs. I was still slightly taller than him in this position. I liked it. His hands found my thighs and gripped them lightly through the denim jeans. I pulled his head up for a kiss. His hands wound around me until he gripped my hips. I nipped at his lower lip, pulling the warm flesh between my teeth, I bit down lightly. Chuckling warmly, he pulled back and smiled at me. His hands slid up my sides, twisting in my shirt and pulling it over my head. He did it so quickly that my hair fluttered down around my shoulders in a mass of unruly curls. Lightly, he touched one of the curls, wrapping it around his finger. Our eyes met and he let the curl go.
“Lay back,” he said.
I took a deep breath and scooted further onto the bed. I lay back, staring up at my ceiling. His hands were on my thighs again, his fingers lightly biting into my flesh as he ran them up my legs to my waist. I pressed my eyes shut. I quit wearing a belt when I quit wearing a shoulder holster. Hard to pack heat and hold an infant at the same time. Also, it didn’t seem like a prudent idea. So, there was no belt for Jean-Claude to remove as he unzipped my jeans and pulled them down my legs.
He was still kneeling on the floor. I could feel the weight of him looking at me and I blushed in spite of myself. I’ve never been comfortable being unclothed and at the moment my bra and panties seemed very insignificant. His fingers touched me lightly, playing on the bare flesh of my thigh.
“You are so lovely, ma petite,” he whispered. I could feel the heat of his breath against my skin.
I didn’t look at him, I couldn’t. This was our first time together since Phillip’s birth. I was his human servant, bound to him through three marks. At times, that situation had its perks. The skin of my abdomen was flawless. As a human servant, I healed quickly and completely. There was no unsightly scar from my cesarean. Also, Jean-Claude had the ability to draw energy from me, to speed up my metabolism. I’d dropped thirty pounds in six weeks. Beat the hell out of starving myself. Still, I didn’t look the way I had before Phillip. I hated being semi-naked. I hated being insecure more.
Jean-Claude crawled onto the bed, stalking up my body until he was crouched above me on his elbows and knees. His hands caressed my face and he kissed me. My eyes, my forehead, my nose, finally my lips.
“Look at me,” he said.
I opened my eyes and stared into his. They were dark with desire so strong it made me gasp. He kissed me, his tongue plundering my mouth, and I forgot all about being insecure.
I had been asleep in Jean-Claude’s arms, a decidedly rare occurrence. I usually didn’t sleep with him, too afraid of waking up next to a cold corpse. Phillip’s cries woke me up and I pushed myself up on my elbows.
“Non,” Jean-Claude whispered, putting his hand on my arm to prevent me from getting out of bed.
The bedside lamp was still on, suffusing the room with its dim light. I lay back on the bed and watched as Jean-Claude climbed from the bed and padded gracefully over to the crib. Phillip stopped wailing, but still fussed. He wasn’t accustomed to his father picking him up in the middle of the night, or of being relegated to his crib. He was not a happy baby. Jean-Claude frowned, but returned to the bed and handed me my distraught son.
Phillip seemed much happier to see me. I was already topless, so it didn’t take much before he was nursing. Jean-Claude watched passively and then reached out to trace his son’s tiny brow with a fingertip.
“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children,” he quoted softly.
I looked at him and he met my eyes passively. I could find nothing there but wonder and affection. I’d thought he would be jealous or irritated. Maybe that was just me. What a shock. Me possessive? Never.
Phillip was asleep again by the time he finished nursing. You’re supposed to burp babies after they eat, but experience had taught me it was easier to let him sleep. Burp him and he’d wake up enough that he’d decide to stay up. Sleep it was.
Jean-Claude took the baby and settled him on his bare chest, gently running his fingers along Phillip’s downy head. I watched him watch his son and something inside of me clicked. Jean-Claude loved his son. It sounds stupid to say that, of course he loved his son, but for the first time, I felt like I understood.
Jean-Claude loved power. He told me once that he loved me as much as he was able. Given that I added to his power base though, his love of me was easy to understand. Phillip on the other hand, added nothing to his power. Given who his parents were, it was possible that one day he could add to Jean-Claude’s power, but none of us knew that for sure. At that moment, Phillip was more of a hindrance to Jean-Claude than anything. He was something that others could use to hurt Jean-Claude. But still, Jean-Claude loved him. Completely.
I loved my son. I knew that with a ferocity so strong that it left me breathless at times. I have people who belong to me, the wereleopards, Jason, Damian, Stephen, Willy. I would do anything to protect them or avenge them. But even that paled in comparison to my devotion to my child. I would move heaven and earth for him if necessary. God have mercy on the creature stupid enough to harm my child because I sure as hell wouldn’t. The realization that I wasn’t alone in my thinking was a little staggering.
Turning his head on the pillow, Jean-Claude looked at me. “Ma petite?” he said gently, reaching out to stroke my cheek. I stared at him blankly until his look changed from questioning to concerned.
“Anita?” he asked, propping himself up slightly while holding Phillip to his chest.
“You will protect him, won’t you?” I asked and for some reason, my voice was unsteady. “If anything happens to me, you will? Right?”
Very slowly, he nodded at me. “With my life,” he said.
And I believed him absolutely.
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