I stared at him. "I don't think I wanted to know that last part. That is beyond disgusting."
"Oui, ma petite,but it is still true. A fortune as large as Bartolome's would normally be Belle's task. She would never leave such monies, or lands, or titles, to anyone else. But she is not a lover of children, no matter how grown-up they may be, so she cast it to Musette. Who, as you now realize, will do anything our mistress bids her do."
"I got that impression."
"So, yes, she seduced, or allowed herself to be seduced by the boy. Belle gave her a touch of the ardeurand Bartolome was enraptured. Belle did not mean to bring him over to us as a boy. She meant to wait until he grew older, but Bartolome was thrown from his horse. He had crushed his skull, and was dying. His next brother was only five, and Belle would have no hold on him. She needed Bartolome, and so she bid Musette finish him."
"How did he feel when he woke up?"
"He was happy to be alive."
"How'd he feel when he finally realized he'd be a little boy forever, no matter how precocious?"
Jean-Claude sighed. "He was . . . unhappy. Bringing children over is forbidden for a reason. Musette did not make Valentina one of us. Belle found that one of her Master Vampires was a pedophile and had brought over children to be his permanent . . . companions." His voice went soft at the end.
I felt ill. I breathed deep and slow. "Sweet Jesus," I said.
"He had broken our prohibition against bringing over children, and when Belle Morte found out why he had done it . . . she slew him. With full permission of the council, she slew him. They destroyed most of the children he had made. They were vampires trapped in children's bodies, and they had been abused." He shook his head. "Their minds did not survive, not whole."
"So how did Valentina escape?" I asked.
"She was his newest and had yet to be touched. She was a child and a vampire but she was not mad. Belle took her in and found her people to care for her. She had human nannies for many years. She had human playmates. I must say that Belle did her best for Valentina. I think she blamed herself for not realizing what a true monster Sebastian was."
"Why do I think this ideal picture doesn't stay ideal?"
"You know us too well, ma petite.Valentina tried to turn some of her playmates into vampires, so she would not be the only one. When her nanny discovered her, Valentina slit her throat. That was the end of human nannies and human playmates."
"That's why the vampire nanny," I said.
He nodded. "She does not truly need one in the traditional sense of a child's need, but she is forever eight years old, and even today she cannot catch a taxi by herself, register in a hotel, without people wondering. Some well-meaning human will call the police to report the poor abandoned child that's staying in their hotel."
"She must hate it."
"Her existence," I said.
He gave half a shrug. "I do not know. I do not speak to Valentina."
"You're afraid of her."
"Non, ma petite,but I am unnerved by her. The few children that survive for centuries are twisted things. It cannot be otherwise."
"How did she end up with Musette's entourage?"
"Valentina was taken before her body grew large enough for much physical pleasure. She has turned such energies into other," he licked his lips, "avenues of interest."
I sighed. "Musette is Belle's torturer, which means that Valentina is what, her little assistant in the torture?"
He nodded, head resting against the chair back, eyes closed. "Valentina has been a very apt pupil."
"She's tortured you?"
He nodded, eyes still closed. "I told you that the price for Belle saving Asher's life was my servitude for a century among them. But Belle wished to punish me for leaving her, and for a long time she gave me to pain rather than pleasure."
I went to him, crawling on the floor by his chair, smoothing my skirts down automatically, though there was no one there to see. "So Valentina won't be asking for a lover."
"Will she try for a . . . what? Submissive?"
"Can we just refuse?"
"Can we make the 'no' stick?"
He opened his eyes and looked down at me. "I believe so, but to say absolutely would be too close to a lie."
I shook my head. "If Musette left tonight, and returned in three months, would we have less ground to stand on?"
"She will not leave, ma petite."
"No, that's not what I mean. What I mean is, if she had come in three months after good faith negotiations had gone through, would I still have been allowed to get away with what I did tonight? Or would we have faced the council's wrath?"
"We would have chosen a victim for Musette, or chosen a lover for her, or both before she arrived. It would have been settled and not a surprise."
"You know most human guests don't expect their hosts to supply them with sex partners."
"Nor do most of the bloodlines that descend from the council, but Belle's line is built upon sex, and it has become custom to offer any of Belle's line sex when they visit you. It is assumed that we all carry a touch of her succubus within us."
"That's not true," I said.
"Non, but no one of her line has ever wished to dissuade others of the lie."
I smiled, thought about laughing, and was too tired. "We can keep Willie and Hannah safe because they've got to be in charge of the two clubs. We've already negotiated that our businesses are not to be disrupted by the visit," I said.
"Belle was always one to keep her mind on where the money was coming from, so yes, Willie is my manager for The Laughing Corpse, and Hannah is temporary manager of Danse Macabre. The two weakest of my flock are safe away."
"Damian is my vampire servant, I'm your human servant, you're Master of the City, Jason is your pomme de sang,Nathaniel is my pomme de sang,Micah is my lover and my Nimir-Raj, Richard is Ulfric, and the bodyguards can't guard our bodies if they're screwing other people."
"We have made everyone as safe as we can, ma petite."
"There's one name that's conspicuously absent from that list, Jean-Claude."
"Three actually, ma petite,four if you count Gretchen."
"Gretchen is crazy, Jean-Claude. You got a special pass for her from Belle because she's still ill, right?" Gretchen had tried to kill me once, as punishment, she got locked up in a coffin for a while. The isolation had driven her even crazier.
"Oui,Gretchen will keep to her room for Musette's visit, but that does not protect Meng Die or Faust."
"Faust likes men, and to my knowledge nobody in Musette's party is g*y, right?"
"Oui,but that is not always a barrier."
"We laid down the law tonight, that no one was to be hurt again. Forcing someone to have sex with a partner they find repugnant is a form of rape, and thus it's harm."
He looked at me, surprised. "Ma petite,you are becoming devious."
I shook my head. "Nope, just practical. So Faust is safe, because he only likes men and none of Musette's men likes men. Torture is out, because that's just harm."
"Meng Die will fascinate Bartolome."
"But again, Meng Die doesn't like children, so Bartolome would have to rape her to get his way with her, thus . . ."
"She is safe from his advances." He seemed to think about that for a second or two. "But what of Angelito?"
"Isn't he a couple with Musette? Aren't they doing each other?"
"When they wish to, yes."
I frowned at him. "Not a hot pair?"
"Musette's true love is not sex, which is why she and Valentina have been so close for so long."
"Not our problem. If everyone has access to someone they can f**k, or we have no suitable partners for them outside of rape, then everyone's covered. Or have I missed something?"
He thought about it quietly for a few minutes. "Non, ma petite.Your machinations are worthy of Belle herself, if her intention were to keep her people safe." Then he looked at me. "Except for one problem. Musette has had sex with Asher in the past, so you cannot make a charge of rape."
"Having sex in the past doesn't mean it can't be rape in the present," I said.