“I’m so embarrassed,” I moaned, lounging on Davis’ bed after our bit of play.
His soft green eyes regarded me with amusement and he inhaled deeply to keep from laughing. “Ani, don’t be. It was quite entertaining. And I honestly don’t think she minded at all. Riel says it happens often.”
“I don’t care. I’ve never found a woman desirable,” I replied.
“There’s a first time for everything,” he shrugged.
“I don’t think I apologized enough times.”
“I think she understands, sweetie,” Davis cooed, wrapping up my belts and putting them away before coming to sit by me. He leaned over me and smiled. “Would you like to know why she elicits such powerful reactions?”
“Yes. You did promise you’d tell me about her tonight,” I reminded him.
“Get comfy. I’m about to teach you about vampires,” he preambled. He told me that there were several races of vampire: ragnir, lehalo, gengi, jenodi, scaroth, and logmin. Aeryn was the reincarnated queen of all vampires but most notably was the progenitor of the logmin. She had spawned their race in one of her previous lives. The reason all sorts of odd creatures were crawling out of the woodwork was because they all wanted to support her rise to power. Some groups wanted to control her but most simply wanted to worship her. The vampires were the most vocal, cohesive, and energized group; some other species were sort of sitting on the sidelines watching and waiting. For thousands of years there had been bad blood between many of the groups, or at the very least strongly reinforced lines of demarcation between groups. “To each his own” referenced their usual method of dealing with other creatures. Yet the exploits and tenacity of Queen Aeryn were legendary among mythical and fairy tale folk. In fact, The Crash had been caused by technology created by some of these beings. It had been repurposed for nefarious intent by a group of humans who would rather destroy the world than share it with a bunch of weirdos. They were called Hunters. They had wiped out decent people, other creatures, and whole countries in an effort to purge the Earth. The US had been hit fairly hard; they’d devastated the economy and left little more than racists and bigots alive. Overall, nearly one out of every three people was killed or mortally wounded before the Others (a name for all beings who weren’t quite human) managed to cripple the Hunters.
This was a huge reason why most Others were considering teaming up under Queen Aeryn’s lead. They wanted to ensure their survival and had realized they would need to band together. It wasn’t easy but with Aeryn uniting them they stood a chance. Also, as Aeryn grew older her natural magnetism would expand exponentially. That’s what I’d come face to face with earlier today. Aeryn exuded sex appeal and nearly all who laid eyes on her felt compelled to please her. Or to own her. But though every Other knew who she was they didn’t know where to find her. Her privacy was relatively protected. For instance, many Others knew of her former marriage to Riel Shancus but they had no idea where either of them lived. That suited his purposes well; he was the vampires’ best chance of establishing a lasting truce with the lycans and, by extension, witches. Davis had discovered all of this because his best friend was a vampire. “And I’ve never met them?” I was taken aback. “No fair, Davis,” I scolded him.
“All in good time. There’s a lot you have left to learn. I can’t overload you now,” he explained.
“I suppose that’s fine. As long as you don’t hide anything from me.”
“Never intentionally, I promise,” Davis agreed. “Let’s rest now. Tomorrow’s another ski day and I’m sure Ashley will work us to death on the slopes.”
“Mind if I sleep in here?” I wondered, thoroughly worn out from beating him and having no energy with which to make the trek downstairs.
“Not at all. Um, but speaking of not keeping secrets, I have something to tell you.”
“What is it?”
“You have to go to sleep to find out,” he said playfully. “Come on, under the covers with you.” He pulled me up by my hand and tucked me in. “Comfy, babe?”
“Yes. Thank you. See you in my dreams,” I purred.
He kissed my forehead and laid back. His alarm bird obligingly turned off the lights. At first I squirmed a bit, wondering about what he wanted to tell me. But when he took hold of my hand I calmed down. I drifted off and eagerly awaited our shared dream. I was wandering through a lovely meadow, heading towards a river. Davis was standing there when I arrived. “Let’s float, Ani,” he suggested. Holding hands, we fell back into the water and let the current carry us. As we floated along he hummed one of his favorite songs. I reached up and grabbed some sunlight, putting it on my chest and playing with it as we went on our way. “Ani…” Davis called me.
“Look over there.” He pointed to his right. I saw outlines of hearts rising slowly into the sky. They were a rainbow of colors and seemed to be alive. The hearts unfolded and reconnected, forming into letters. The words grew bigger until they stretched across the entire sky. Davis’ eyes lit up as he gazed at me. “I’ve wanted to tell you for a while now. Ani, I’m bit by you. You’ve got me,” he smiled wide as the words finished settling into “I love you, Ani Brewster”.
“Jibberin’ flapjacks! How sweet are you? I wish I’d thought to tell you like this. It’s beautiful,” I gushed.
“I love the way you told me.”
“I loved the way you responded to it,” I shared.
“Heh. Me, too,” he chuckled.
“Thank you for telling me, Davis. I appreciate it.”
“Sure, sweetie.” He lifted my hand to lay a kiss upon it. We continued to drift along in comfortable silence. I pulled him closer and hugged him until we woke up. Somehow, I’d ended up on the other side of him entirely. “How did you manage that, you wild sleeper?” he laughed.
I giggled and stood up to stretch. “Who knows? Mm, let me go get suited up. I’ll see you downstairs in a bit,” I told him, kissing his cheek before heading to my room one floor down. Where Evin was waiting to make fun of me for yesterday’s events. “Evin!” I groaned.
“What? Oh, cherie, first you have a ménage and don’t tell me about it and now one of your other beaus has declared his love. It’s so kinky and romantic! My little Aniella,” he tutted, following me into the bathroom.
“Are you living vicariously?” I inquired as I started up the shower.
He shrugged. “I kind of have to, don’t I?”
Grabbing his hand, I tugged him forward into the shower. “We’ll find a way, Evin,” I promised.
“I certainly hope so, Ani. You’re so beautiful,” he said wistfully.
“You really think that? Sometimes I wonder,” I admitted.
“Do I fail to make you feel wanted?” he inquired, leaning back against the wall as I washed up.
“Not exactly. I think it’s that I doubt I’m the best-looking person you’ve ever seen. I’m simply the only one you have access to.”
His blue eyes grew contemplative as he considered my words. “I’m not settling for you if that’s what you think. I chose you, not only because you were aware of me but because you’re amazing. And you’re a very talented artist. I’ve been reading more of your works. It’s a very unique story you’ve created. I’ve never seen a world like it,” he spoke in a measured way with a touch of awe. “You’re quite brilliant, girl. And even simply looking at you brings me great pleasure. Don’t ever assume I don’t appreciate your mind or your body.”
“That’s good to know, Evin,” I said happily.
“I only wish I could have appreciated it while it was pressed into Aeryn’s,” he added, eyes twinkling.
“Don’t make me kick you,” I threatened. “I’ll see you this afternoon. And if Aeryn doesn’t hate me, perhaps I’ll invite her to our study session. I’m sure she can fill in some of the blanks for us.”
“Sounds delightful, cherie. I’ll see you later,” he nodded and vanished.
I hopped out of the shower, dressed in my warmest outfit, and skipped down the stairs. “You coming along today or putting up with Evin again?” I asked Jesse as I sat down next to him for a breakfast worthy of a cowboy.
“Actually, I was going to visit Riel and Aeryn and invite them for dinner. I’ll spend the rest of my time finalizing our notes for the discussion,” he revealed.
“Oh, that’s perfect. I swear you read my mind,” I laughed.
A bit shyly, he stared down at his plate as others joined us for the massive meal. “Most containers aren’t mind-readers. But I think I know you pretty well. And this morning when Davis mentioned Riel and Aeryn were fairly important vampires I figured you’d want to learn more.”
I beamed at him. “Fantastic.” I dug in heartily, ignoring Stan’s barbs about my eating habits. After we finished Stan, Ashley, Davis, Jack, Cal, and I booted up and headed out. Areillo was already out there when we reached the summit. Today Jack, Davis, and I did marginally better. Ashley spent about an hour with each of us separately, coaching us. By lunchtime I had greatly improved. Davis still didn’t seem to like it and swore to never ski again. Jack was doing even better than I was. Cal had been skiing before so was fairly skilled, though not quite as talented as his girlfriend. We all laughed and then cheered as Stan pulled off a reckless stunt; he held onto Areillo as they went flying down the slopes. He’d removed his skis and stood right behind Areillo, holding on for dear life. It was a miracle they didn’t crash or fall. The rest of us clapped when Stan and Areillo made it to the bottom safely. Davis, Jack, and I headed back to the cabin to start on lunch. We put on music and danced around the kitchen as we cooked. Evin floated around above our heads, singing along to the songs. Somehow, we managed to get everything ready before the others returned.
After lunch I paged my parents, siblings, and cousin to check in on them. Joel let me know that Rose was doing well. He went to visit her every day so that she didn’t get lonely. Sweet kid. He was also Davis’ and Ashley’s moms’ new favorite helper. He assisted them with various chores around the house and ran errands for them. They were incredibly grateful for the company. They’d also set up a date with our parents and the Cambaccis’ parents. I think they were going to place bets on which guy I’d marry. Thoroughly embarrassing. I bade the weirdos adieu and posted up on the couch in the living room, finishing up a few pages for Clarence Buys Hats. Spurts of laughter and giggles came out of me occasionally but thankfully the others were all used to it by now. Jesse was still out (he hadn’t come back for lunch) and Jack seemed a bit distressed. He wandered about the cabin pacing back and forth and even started biting his nails. Finally, I asked him to sit down and tell me what was on his mind. “Are you worried about Jesse? I’m sure they haven’t killed him or anything,” I said lightly, trying to inspire a smile.
Jack sat next to me and sighed. “Ani, I’m really amped up. They may not be killing him but they sure are doing something,” he spoke a bit hoarsely.
“Like what?” I set my comic aside and curled my feet up under me.
Reaching out to play with my now-black hair, he leaned closer and answered, “I’ve been wanting to take you to my room for the last hour or so. It’s not all me, though. Jesse is very aroused right now. I had to… I’ve been to the bathroom three times in the past two hours.”
I stared into his brown eyes. They were a bit wild. “What are you saying, Jack?”
The corner of his mouth rose and he brought his lips next to my ear to whisper something. “That’s not just my name, you know. It’s also slang for a certain act. It’s what I was doing.”
The blush went throughout my entire body. My ears had never been warmer. He remained close, letting it fully sink in and letting me feel his breath and body heat. I gulped and my belly dropped. “Three times in one day,” I giggled nervously. “But what is he… Do you think he’s reacting to her like I did?”
“I think it’s more than a simple reaction. It’s not going away, no matter what I do. Little ma’am, I’m so very tempted to ask you to come to my room right now,” he admitted, pulling away so he could meet my eyes.
“I thought you and Jesse chose not to do anything like that separately, at least for now,” I pointed out.
“We did. But if what Davis told us is accurate, Aeryn’s fairly irresistible. I can’t say I really blame Jesse with the way you yourself responded yesterday. And you didn’t even receive any active signals from her. I think Aeryn has responded in kind to Jesse. It’s driving me insane.” Jack’s eyes closed for a moment. When they opened they were ten times more intense. “I didn’t want to bother you.”
“You can come to me with anything, Jack. You could have told me as soon as you felt like this. What do we do? Put you in a cold shower so he gets the hint? Obviously, um, you reinterpreting your name isn’t helping.”
“Already tried a shower.” Jack shook his head. He gripped the back of the couch as a wave of desire hit him. “Maybe I should go for a run.”
“Will you be okay?” I wondered, touching his knee.
“Not with you touching me like that, little ma’am… I swear I’m going to make my brother pay for this,” he mumbled.
I cracked up at first and pulled my hand away quickly. Then I grew serious as I saw the very real struggle in his eyes. “I think we all will. He shouldn’t have gone alone. It was irresponsible and look what it’s doing to you.”
“I’ll survive, Ani. I’ve been through this before,” Jack assured me, squeezing my shoulder before heading out.
I sat in thoughtful silence for a while, thinking about their relationship. I vowed to find a way to lessen the pleasure/pain link between them. They deserved to be free to pursue their sexual and romantic interests without worrying about inconveniencing the other. Plus, I knew there would be times when they’d want me to themselves. Though our time the night before had been amazing it wouldn’t be able to last that way for the duration of our respective relationships. And Jesse seemed to be a little more reckless than Jack. If any of this was going to work long term, if we each wanted fulfilling relationships, then their tie would have to be severed or reduced. It didn’t have to be removed entirely-especially not the useful skill of being able to sense when the other was in pain-but having the intensity of it lessened would be best. Though seeing Jack that worked up had excited me we’d both known it wouldn’t have been right or helpful to go to bed. I’d loved the heat in his eyes but I also knew that it wasn’t inspired by me and that if Jack had sex with me it would have been masturbatory instead of mutual. Plus, I think it would have only made it worse for each of them, sucking them into a sexual cycle with no end. Just like with me yesterday, their desire was inspired by someone else’s aura. Jesse was under the influence right now in a big way. In so short a time we had all been caught up. Queen Aeryn was powerful beyond measure, a dream come true. If we became friends of hers would any of us ever be lucid again?