Disclaimer: I own nothing. All the Anita Blake ‘verse characters belong to Laurell K Hamilton and Tara Maclay belongs to Joss Whedon.
Richard waited patiently for Tara to open her door. He could hear her scurrying around inside the room as she made her final preparations for their regular Thursday date. Keeping anyone waiting was decidedly out of character for her. When Tara had started to open up to him she had confessed that she had been ready over an hour before their first date in an effort to be on time.
Richard winced slightly at the memory. Now that had been a painful evening. Irritated at being forced to baby sit a human friend of Marianne’s, he had not been overly warm when he picked up the painfully shy Tara. Over an hour of awkward pauses and stilted conversations had passed before Tara had quietly commented on the general ignorance around the mountain trolls. Desperately seizing on this apparent common ground Richard spent most of the evening discussing the recent conservation moves by wildlife officials to protect the Trolls’ native habitat. Somehow at the end of evening he found himself inviting Tara to go walking with him the following Saturday. Walking had led to dinner on Tuesday, then a movie on Friday, until his dates with Tara had become one of the most enjoyable interludes in his week.
Tara yanked open the door with a smile. “I’m so s-sorry to keep you waiting Richard. Time just got away from me,” she apologised.
Taking note of her flushed appearance and the re-emergence of her nervous stammer, Richard breathed in analysing the scents of the room. A faint smell of arousal hung around Tara nearly obscured by the more powerful scents of … two perfumes? Richard grinned at his friend. “Amanda said yes?”
Tara’s blush deepened further. “Yes to the chai today, with an option on dinner tomorrow,” she confessed.
Richard smiled at her in honest pleasure. While he had been privately convinced that anyone would be a fool to turn down an overture from someone as sweet as Tara, he knew how worried she had been about it. Now that worry could be put aside, leaving room for some gentle teasing. “Good,” he said. “All that worrying wasted. Just think, you could have actually paid attention to the movie last week rather than spending the two hours doubting yourself.”
“I paid attention,” indignantly.
“No Tara, you didn’t. I could have taken you to hard core Swedish porn and you wouldn’t have noticed. Being such a good friend, I chose to ignore that your attention was on ‘Amanda-from-Ancient-History’ rather than me.”
A flustered Tara swiped at his shoulder irritably. “Are you going to keep on like this all night?”
“Not all night.” Richard paused, waiting for her to relax, “Just until the entrees are served, or you admit that I was right when I said there was nothing for you to worry about.”
Tara sighed and picked up her shawl. “Let’s get the gloating over and done with then.
In the privacy of his office Jean Claude was flustered. Anita would have been amused to see the normally composed master vampire so ill at ease. Or maybe not; anything that was able to strip Jean Claude of his composure had to be a major threat to the power structure in St Louis. Even Asher’s quiet presence was not enough to calm him.
“Belle Morte punishes us,” Asher’s voice was quiet, scared.
, but we can do nothing. Musette is her vaisseau
. If we reject her presence we reject Belle Morte.”
“I was at court longer than you, mon ami
; I understand what is at stake here.”
“I am sorry Asher. I am merely preparing all the things I will have to say to prevent ma petite
from drawing one of her guns on Musette.”
“A difficult task.”
“This evening will not be pleasant for any of us. I need ma petite
and Mr. Zeeman here tonight. We cannot afford to show any weakness to the Council.”
Asher chose his next words carefully. “Are you sure that having them here without having time to prepare them is a wise course of action?”
, of course it isn’t. But what choice do I have? The triumvirate strengthens my position in St. Louis. Belle Morte will be less inclined to challenge me if I demonstrate my ability to defend my city.”
“I understand all of this Jean Claude, but the triumvirate is hardly at its strongest. The Ulfric has been particularly inattentive of late. Without him you are limited to the power given to you by your human servant.”
Jean Claude’s voice was cold. “He is my wolf. I can make him obey.”
“But at what cost? Anita will never allow him to be physically harmed, nor any of his pack. If you try to enforce the bond to ensure his cooperation you risk alienating her.”
“I can remember a time when our lives weren’t so complicated,” Jean Claude said plaintively.
Asher flashed him a nervous smile. “So do I, mon ami
. But those years are long past and now we must turn our attention to surviving this visit.”
“Agreed.” After a momentary silence Jean Claude looked at his one time lover. “I do not expect that the coming nights will be easy on you.”
Asher inclined his head, letting his hair fall down further over his scars. “There is nothing Musette can say that I have not heard from Belle Morte herself.”
“That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier on you.”
“I am aware of the abhorrence my scars inspire in Belle Morte. The barbs sting less than they once did.”
Asher and Jean Claude turned their faces to the door as they heard the quiet footsteps of a shifter approach.
“Enter,” Jean Claude commanded.
Jason entered the room. The normally exuberant young werewolf was as subdued as the vampires. Although not privy to all the details, he was smart enough to pick up on Musette’s early arrival being firmly in the realms of the not-good.
“Anita is at a raising in Lindell Cemetry, and according to Sylvie, Richard is out with a friend. He had reservations at Maurice and tickets to the theatre.”
Jean Claude acknowledged the information with a silent nod and waited for Jason to leave before straightened and said, “Asher, bring me my human servant and my wolf. It is time for me to greet our guests.”
Asher tilted his head at the formality of Jean Claude’s request. “Are you sending me as your friend or as your témoin
“Both. If I can spare you even an hour of the coming unpleasantness I will.” As Asher turned to leave Jean Claude called out one final instruction, “Collect Richard first before pulling ma petite
away from her zombies. With any luck they will have sufficient time to trade their barbs before you return to the Circus.”
Tara tucked her arm thorough Richard’s. “As always that was a lovely meal.”
“I like Maurice’s,” Richard admitted. “There’s a certain relief in being somewhere that is so removed from…” he paused.
“Yes. Things have been complicated recently. This, us, gives me an escape from all of it.”
“Is that why you haven’t introduced me to anyone yet?” Tara asked hesitantly.
“It may be selfish but I want to keep you for myself. If you become a known entity to the rest of them, then they’ll feel comfortable in interrupting us. I don’t want that.”
Tara squeezed his hand. “Just as long as you are not ashamed of your human friend,” she half joked.
Richard turned to her in surprise. “Is that what you thought?”
“Maybe.” Tara dropped her gaze. “Yes.”
“Tara, sweetheart, you’re about the only good thing in my life at the moment.”
“Werewolf king getting to be good friends with a novice witch, maybe-lesbian freshman is a good thing?”
“Absolutely. What do you mean maybe
Tara’s grin was decidedly mischievous. “As I haven’t kissed a girl or a boy yet I’m keeping the maybe in, just in case.”
“Fair enough,” Richard laughed. “Well in the interest of science and you deciding your sexual future, allow me.” That was all the warning Richard gave Tara before he cupped her cheeks and gently kissed her. Tara froze for a moment before relaxing against him. Richard broke off and smiled wryly at her. “There, now you can safely take the maybe off it.”
“I feel like I should apologise,” Tara said.
“For not being overcome with my manly charms? Amanda got more of a reaction from you by simply having a cup of tea than I did with a kiss.”
Tara smiled. “We’ll just stick with being friends then,” she promised.
“A much safer situation.”
Asher had held back while Richard and his friend finished their seemingly serious conversation. Keeping far enough back so that the Ulfric would be unable to sense him meant that he had been unable to listen in. Although Asher technically spoke for Jean Claude, interrupting him mid-embrace with his human date would not endear him to the wolf. Once the two broke apart Asher descended to the ground.
Richard’s nostrils flared as they suddenly picked up the scent of the vampire. Turning, he placed himself directly in front of Tara. He had succeeded in keeping her from the pack and would be damned before he’d let one of Jean Claude’s pet vampires near her.
Asher kept his tone neutral. “Monsieur
Zeeman, your presence is required at the Circus tonight.”
“No, it is not,” Richard said calmly. “My presence will not be required for another three months, not until Musette visits.”
“She has arrived early.”
Richard could feel his shoulders tensing and when he spoke his voice had dropped into a near growl. “I agreed to be there is three months, not tonight. I will not break my commitments just because your Council has not mastered the Julian calendar.”
“I am sure the mademoiselle
would understand if you were to postpone the rest of the evening’s entertainments.”
Tara placed a hand on Richard’s shoulder. “Richard, if it’s important I don’t mind -”
“I mind! I will not dance to Jean Claude’s tune.”
Asher kept his anger off his face with effort. That this impudent pup would endanger them all over a mistimed power play… “Is that the message you wish me to relay to Jean Claude?” he asked politely.
“What I want to say to Jean Claude is not fit to be said in front of a lady.”
“Be careful Ulfric; you are setting yourself on a dangerous course,” Asher warned.
“Leave, Asher,” Richard said tiredly. “Fetch Anita like the good little errand boy you are and leave us alone.” Richard waited until Asher has flown off before turning back towards Tara. “I’m sorry,” he offered, “I didn’t want you involved in that.”
“So I won’t be,” Tara tried to reassure him. “One interruption by a vampire doesn’t have to mean anything.”
Richard drew her close for a hug. “My life is never that simple.”
Asher withdrew his little-used cell phone and dialled Jean Claude’s private line. “We have a problem.”
, He’s not coming. He was with a human woman and refused to leave her to come with me.”
“This is more important than a simple assignation!”
“Not to the Ulfric. I think he had decided to test the bounds of his leash.”
“Then I will tighten it. I can not afford any sign of outright defiance at the moment.”
Asher was silent.
“Do you think it was because of the human?” Jean Claude asked.
“Perhaps. He was very protective and would not allow me near her.”
Jean Claude’s laugh sounded slightly desperate to Asher. “So I have one third of my triumvirate refusing to present himself, and the other third will be insanely jealous at the thought of a human female entering the equation.”
“Perhaps this is a time when honesty would not be the wisest course.”
“You’re right, mon ami
. I do not need to deal with ma petite’s
jealousy tonight of all nights. Bring her here to me and if she asks, tell her you were unable to locate Richard.”
“What do you want me to do about him?”
“Tonight? Nothing. But we will have to watch the situation closely. I’ll have Jason find out what he can about the human Monsieur
Zeeman values over his alliance with me.”