He kissed me gently on the forehead, my hand still in his. "I will. Now sleep, or you're going to make yourself sick. A sick Nimir-Ra can't protect anybody."
Since I couldn't keep my eyes from giving long blinks, it was hard to argue. Him kissing my hand was the first hint I had that he'd stood up. That had been a long blink.
The bed moved, and Nathaniel cuddled up against me. His arm across my stomach, one leg across my thigh. It was one of his favorite sleeping positions, but something wasn't right with it. "Clothes," I said, and I frowned harder, "Can't feed off Nathaniel again."
Micah reappeared in my line of sight. "You've only been asleep about two hours, that's why you're so tired. If you fed the ardeurat dawn, you've got at least six hours before you need to feed again. We're just putting him in here so he won't be alone."
The last few words floated out of the dark, and it wasn't until he'd been quiet for a long time that I opened my eyes to an empty room. Nathaniel was tucked in against me, his face hidden against my shoulder. He snuggled in tighter, leaving me with about an inch of bed to spare. I started to move him over and get out of bed to find the pajamas no one had given me, but I fell back to sleep. The wereleopards were having a bad influence on how comfortable I was being nude.
I dreamed. Belle Morte sat at her dressing table, her long black hair fell in waves, freshly brushed, gleaming in the candlelight. She wore a gown of deep yellow gold, and I knew before she turned those honey brown eyes to me that the color of the robe brought out the gold in them.
Her lips were red and moist, as if she'd just licked them. She held out her white hand towards me. "Come, ma petite,come, sit with me." She smiled with that red, red mouth, and I wanted nothing more than to go to her, to take that outstretched hand, and be held.
I actually started forward a step and found I was wearing a gown similar to hers. I could feel the layers of petticoats, the metal of the stays digging in, forcing my posture absolutely straight. The gown was a rich crimson, a color that made my own skin gleam white, my hair blacker for the contrast, my own lips redder than they truly were, my dark eyes nearly black.
I touched the unfamiliar clothes, and it helped me to think, helped me to hesitate. I shook my head. "No," and my whisper echoed oddly through the room.
She waved that pale hand at me. "As you like, ma petite,but come closer, so I may know you better."
I shook my head again, forcing my fingers to touch the heavy, unfamiliar fabric of the gown. "I am not your ma petite."
"Of course you are, for everything that belongs to Jean-Claude is mine."
"No," I said. It seemed like I should have been saying more, but I couldn't think with her sitting there wrapped in candlelight, a bowl of old-fashioned roses on the table by her elbow. The roses were her rose, created and named for her centuries ago.
She stood in a swish of skirts, that rustling sound that made my pulse beat faster, and my body tighten. Run, run,I screamed it in my head, but my body wasn't moving.
She walked slowly towards me, her br**sts mounded by the tight clothing. I had a sudden flash of memory of what it was like to kiss along that gleaming skin.
I took two handfuls of the long skirt, turned on my high-heeled shoes, and ran. The room vanished as I ran, and it was a long, endlessly long corridor that I ran down. It was dark, but it was the dark of dreams where even without light you could always see the monsters. Though what lurked in the alcoves along the hallway weren't exactly monsters.
Couples entwined on either side of me. Glimpses of flesh, pale and dark, images of carnal delights. I didn't see anything clearly, I didn't want to. I ran, and tried not to see, but of course, I couldn't not see everything. Breasts like ripe fruit spilling out of old-fashioned dresses. Full skirts lifted to prove that there was nothing underneath but flesh. A man with his pants around his thighs, and a woman bending over him. Blood gleamed down the pale flesh, vampires raised fangs to the light, and humans clung to them, begging for more.
I ran faster, and faster, struggling against the heavy skirts and the tight upright corset. It was hard to breathe, hard to move, and no matter how fast I ran, the door that I could see at the end of all these carnal nightmares never seemed to get closer.
There was nothing too terribly frightening happening in the alcoves. Nothing I hadn't either seen or participated in, in one form or another, but somehow I knew that if I stopped running they'd get me. And, more than anything else, I didn't want them to touch me.
The door was suddenly in front of me. I grabbed the handle, tugged on it, and it was locked. Of course it was locked. I screamed, and knew before I turned around that the things in the corridor weren't in the alcoves anymore.
Belle's voice, "Come to me willingly, ma petite."
I put my forehead against the door, eyes closed, as if, if I didn't turn around, didn't see them, they couldn't get me. "Stop calling me that."
She laughed, and it felt like sex sliding along my skin. Jean-Claude's laugh was amazing, but this, this . . . the sound made me spasm against the hard wood and metal of the door.
"You will feed us, ma petite.It will happen, your choice is only in how."
I turned slowly, the way you do in nightmares. You turn, knowing that the hot breath on your skin really is the monster.
Belle Morte stood in the center of the vast echoing space of the corridor, and through Jean-Claude's memories I knew it was a real place, this corridor. The people from the alcoves crowded to either side of her and behind her, a huge, hungry-eyed, half-naked mob.
"I offer you my hand, come, take it, and it will be pleasure beyond your dreams. Refuse me . . ." she motioned, and that one small movement seemed to take in all the eager, leering faces. "It can be a dream, or a nightmare. The choice is yours."
I shook my head. "You don't give choices, Belle, you never did."
"Then your choice is . . . pain."
The mob at her back rushed me, and the dream shattered. I was left gasping in Nathaniel's worried face. "You cried out in your sleep. Were you having a nightmare?" he said.
My heart was beating so hard I could barely swallow past my pulse. I managed a breathy, "Oh, yeah."
Then I smelled roses, thick, cloying, old-fashioned, almost sickly sweet. Belle's voice echoed through my head, "You will feed us."
The ardeurpoured through me, raising heat along my skin. Nathaniel jerked his hands back as if he'd been burned, but I knew it hadn't hurt. He knelt in the tangle of sheets, eyes wide, the little satin jogging shorts stretched tight over his thighs. They weren't stretched tight over the front of him yet, he wasn't excited yet, and I wanted him to be.
I rolled onto my side, reaching for him, one pale hand outstretched. "Come, take my hand." The moment the words left my mouth, I was back in my nightmare, except that I was playing Belle.
Nathaniel was reaching out towards me, to touch my hand, and I knew if he did, the ardeurwould spread to him, and I would feed. Nathaniel had collapsed last night because I'd taken too much from him, what would happen if I fed again this soon?
"Stop," I said, and it was almost firm. If it had been almost anyone else, they wouldn't have stopped, but it was Nathaniel and he did what he was told.
He stayed on his knees, those tiny shorts stretched so tight across his body. He let his hand fall back into his lap. He was only inches away from me. All I had to do was close that small distance.
I needed to get out of the bed, to walk away, but that strong I was not. I couldn't seem to take my eyes away from him, so close, so eager, so young. That thought wasn't mine.
I frowned, and the confusion helped me push back the ardeurlong enough to sit up, long enough to look at the mirror on the dresser against the far wall. I was trying to see if my eyes were shining with honey-brown fire, but they were my eyes. Belle hadn't possessed me like she had once upon a time. But she'd done something--awakened the ardeurhours ahead of time.
The bed moved, and my head swiveled back, like a predator hearing the mouse in the grass. Nathaniel was exactly where I'd left him, but he must have made some small movement, and that one small movement had been enough. My pulse was in my throat, my body tight and swollen with need. A need like nothing I'd ever experienced. I couldn't breathe past it, couldn't move around it. It was as if need had taken me over and there was nothing left of me.
This wasn't right. This wasn't me. I managed to shake my head, to let out the breath I'd been holding. I was being messed about with. I even knew who was doing it, but I didn't know how to stop it.