"Take off your shirt," I said, and my voice came out as hoarse as his. "I don't have a shirt, you shouldn't have a shirt."
"Fine," he said, and presto, the shirt was off. You'd expect Quinn to be hairy, but he isn't. What he is, is muscular to the nth degree, and right at the moment his olive skin was summer-tan. His ni**les were surprisingly dark and (not so surprisingly) very hard. Oh, boy - right at my eye level. He began dealing with his own damn belt while I began to explore one hard nub with my mouth, the other with my hand. Quinn's whole body jerked, and he stopped what he was doing. He ran his fingers into my hair to hold my head against him, and he sighed, though it came out more like a growl, vibrating through his body. My free hand yanked at his pants, and he resumed working on the belt but in an unfocused and distracted way.
"Let's move into the bedroom," I said, but it didn't come out like a calm and collected suggestion, more a ragged demand.
He swooped me up, and I latched my arms around his neck and kissed him on his beautiful mouth again.
"No fair," he muttered. "My hands are full."
"Bed," I said, and he deposited me on the bed and then simply fell on top of me.
"Clothes," I reminded him, but he had a mouthful of white lace and breast, and he didn't reply. "Oh," I said. I may have said "Oh" a few more times; and "Yes," too. A sudden thought yanked me right out of the flow of the moment.
"Quinn, do you have, you know..." I had never needed to have such items before, since vamps can't get a girl pregnant or give her a disease.
"Why do you think I still have my pants on?" he said, pulling a little package out of his back pocket. His smile this time was far more feral.
"Good," I said from my heart. I would have thrown myself from a window if we'd had to quit. "And you might take the pants off now."
I'd seen Quinn na**d before but under decidedly stressful circumstances - in the middle of a swamp, in the rain, while we were being pursued by werewolves. Quinn stood by the bed and took off his shoes and socks and then his pants, moving slowly enough to let me watch. He stepped out of his pants, revealing boxer briefs that were suffering their own kind of stress. In one quick movement he eased them off, too. He had a tight, high butt, and the line from his hip to his thigh was just mouthwatering. He had fine, thin white scars striping him at random, but they seemed like such a natural part of him that they didn't detract from his powerful body. I was kneeling on the bed while I admired him, and he said, "Now you."
I unhooked my bra and slid it off my arms, and he said, "Oh, God. I am the luckiest man alive." After a pause, he said, "The rest."
I stood by the bed and eased the little white lacey things off.
"This is like standing in front of a buffet," he said. "I don't know where to begin."
I touched my br**sts. "First course," I suggested.
I discovered that Quinn's tongue was just a bit raspier than a regular man's. I was gasping and making incoherent noises when he moved from my right breast to my left as he tried to decide which one he liked best. He couldn't make up his mind immediately, which was fine with me. By the time he settled on the right breast, I was pushing against him and making sounds that couldn't be mistaken for anything but desperate.
"I think I'll skip the second course and go right to dessert," he whispered, his voice dark and ragged. "Are you ready, babe? You sound ready. You feel ready."
"I am so ready," I said, reaching down between us to wrap my hand around his length. He quivered all over when I touched him. He rolled on the condom.
"Now," he growled. "Now!" I guided him to my entrance, thrust my h*ps up to meet him. "I dreamed of this," he said, and shoved inside me up to the hilt. That was the last thing either of us was able to say.
Quinn's appetite was as outstanding as his equipment.
He enjoyed dessert so much, he came back for seconds.
WE WERE IN THE KITCHEN WHEN AMELIA RETURNED. I'd fed Bob, her cat, since she'd been so tactful earlier and deserved some reward. Tact does not come naturally to Amelia.
Bob ignored his kibble in favor of watching Quinn fry bacon, and I was slicing tomatoes. I'd gotten out the cheese and the mayonnaise and the mustard and the pickles, anything I could imagine a man might want on a bacon sandwich. I'd pulled on some old shorts and a T-shirt, while Quinn had gotten his bag from his truck and put on his workout clothes - a tank top and worn shorts made from sweat material.
Amelia gave Quinn a top-to-bottom scan when he turned back to the stove, and then she looked at me, grinning broadly. "You guys have a good reunion?" she said, tossing her shopping bags on the kitchen table.
"Up to your room, please," I said, because otherwise Amelia would want us to admire every single thing she'd bought. With a pout, Amelia snagged the bags and carried them upstairs, returning in a minute to ask Quinn if there was enough bacon for her.
"Sure," Quinn said obligingly, taking out some strips and putting a few more in the pan.
I liked a man who could cook. While I set out plates and silverware, I was pleasantly aware of the tenderness I felt south of my belly button and of my overwhelmingly relaxed mood. I got three glasses out of the cabinet but kind of forgot what I was doing on my way to the refrigerator, since Quinn stepped away from the stove to give me a quick kiss. His lips were so warm and firm, they reminded me of something else that had been warm and firm. I flashed on my astonished moment of revelation when Quinn had slid into me for the first time. Considering that my only previous sexual encounters had been with vampires, who are definitely on the cool side, you can imagine what a startling experience a breathing lover with a heartbeat and a warm penis would be. In fact, shape-shifters tended to run a bit warmer than regular humans. Even through the condom, I'd been able to feel the heat.
"What?" Quinn asked. "Why the look?" He was smiling quizzically.
I smiled. "I was just thinking of your temperature," I said.
"Hey, you knew I was hot," he said with a grin. "What about the thought reading?" he said more seriously. "How did that work out?"
I thought it was great that he'd even wondered. "I can't call your thoughts any trouble," I said, unable to suppress a huge grin. "It might be a stretch to count 'yesyesyesyespleasepleaseplease' as a thought."
"Not a problem then," he said, totally unembarrassed.
"Not a problem. As long as you're wrapped in the moment and you're happy, I'm gonna be happy."
"Well, hot damn." Quinn turned back to the stove. "That's just great."
I thought it was, too.
Amelia ate her sandwich with a good appetite and then picked Bob up to feed him little bits of bacon she'd saved. The big black-and-white cat purred up a storm.
"So," said Quinn, after his first sandwich had disappeared with amazing quickness, "this is the guy you changed by accident?"
"Yeah," said Amelia, scratching Bob's ears. "This is the guy." Amelia was sitting cross-legged in the kitchen chair, which is something I simply couldn't do, and she was focused on the cat. "The little fella," she crooned. "My fuzzy wuzzy honey, isn't he? Isn't he?" Quinn looked mildly disgusted, but I was just as guilty of talking baby talk to Bob when I was alone with him. Bob the witch had been a skinny, weird guy with a kind of geeky charm. Amelia had told me Bob had been a hairdresser; I'd decided if that were true, he'd fixed hair at a funeral parlor. Black pants, white shirt, bicycle? Have you ever known a hairdresser who presented himself that way?
"So," Quinn said. "What are you doing about it?"
"I'm studying," Amelia said. "I'm trying to figure out what I did wrong, so I can make it right. It would be easier if I could..." Her voice trailed off in a guilty kind of way.
"If you could talk to your mentor?" I said helpfully.
She scowled at me. "Yeah," she said. "If I could talk to my mentor."
"Why don't you?" Quinn asked.
"One, I wasn't supposed to use transformational magic. That's pretty much a no-no. Two, I've looked for her online since Katrina, on every message board witches use, and I can't find any news of her. She might have gone to a shelter somewhere, she might be staying with her kids or some friend, or she might have died in the flooding."
"I believe you had your main income from your rental property. What are your plans now? What's the state of your property?" Quinn asked, carrying his plate and mine to the sink. He wasn't being bashful with the personal questions tonight. I waited with interest to hear Amelia's answers. I'd always wanted to know a lot of things about Amelia that were just plain rude to ask: like, What was she living on now? Though she had worked part-time for my friend Tara Thornton at Tara's Togs while Tara's help was sick, Amelia's outgo far exceeded her visible income. That meant she had good credit, some savings, or another source of income besides the tarot readings she'd done in a shop off Jackson Square and her rent money, which now wasn't coming in. Her mom had left her some money. It must have been a chunk.
"Well, I've been back into New Orleans once since the storm," Amelia said. "You've met Everett, my tenant?"
"When he could get to a phone, he reported some damage to the bottom floor, where I live. There were trees and branches down, and of course there wasn't electricity or water for a couple of weeks. But the neighborhood didn't suffer as badly as some, thank God, and when the electricity was back on, I snuck down there." Amelia took a deep breath. I could hear right from her brain that she was scared to venture into the territory she was about to reveal to us. "I, um, went to talk to my dad about fixing the roof. Right then, we had a blue roof like half the people around us." The blue plastic that covered damaged roofs was the new norm in New Orleans.
This was the first time Amelia had mentioned her family to me, in more than a very general way. I'd learned more from her thoughts than I'd learned from her conversation, and I had to be careful not to mix the two sources when we talked. I could see her dad's presence in her head, love and resentment mixing in her thoughts to form a confused mishmash.
"Your dad is going to repair your house?" Quinn asked casually. He was excavating in my Tupperware box in which I stored any cookies that happened to cross my threshold - not a frequent occurrence, since I have a tendency to put on weight when sweets are in the house. Amelia had no such problem, and she'd stocked the box with a couple of kinds of Keebler cookies and told Quinn he was welcome to help himself.
Amelia nodded, much more fascinated by Bob's fur than she had been a moment before. "Yeah, he's got a crew on it," she said.
This was news to me.
"So who is your dad?" Quinn was keeping up the directness. So far it had worked for him.
Amelia squirmed on the kitchen chair, making Bob raise his head in protest.
"Copley Carmichael," she muttered.
We were both silent with shock. After a minute, she looked up at us. "What?" she said. "Okay, so he's famous. Okay, so he's rich. So?"
"Different last name?" I said.
"I use my mom's. I got tired of people being weird around me," Amelia said pointedly.
Quinn and I exchanged glances. Copley Carmichael was a big name in the state of Louisiana. He had fingers in all kinds of financial pies, and all those fingers were pretty dirty. But he was an old-fashioned human wheeler-dealer: no whiff of the supernatural around Copley Carmichael.
"Does he know you're a witch?" I asked.
"He doesn't believe it for a minute," Amelia said, sounding frustrated and forlorn. "He thinks I'm a deluded little wannabe, that I'm hanging with weird little people and doing weird little jobs to stick my tongue out at him. He wouldn't believe in vampires if he hadn't seen them over and over."
"What about your mom?" Quinn asked. I got myself a refill on my tea. I knew the answer to this one.
"Dead," Amelia told him. "Three years ago. That's when I moved out of my dad's house and into the bottom floor of the house on Chloe. He'd given it to me when I graduated from high school so I'd have my own income, but he made me manage it myself so I'd have the experience."
That seemed like a pretty good deal to me. Hesitantly I said, "Wasn't that the right thing to do? Get you to learn by doing?"
"Well, yeah," she admitted. "But when I moved out, he wanted to give me an allowance...at my age! I knew I had to make it on my own. Between the rent, and the money I picked up doing fortunes, and magic jobs I got on my own, I've been making a living." She threw up her head proudly.
Amelia didn't seem to realize the rent was income from a gift of her father's, not something she'd actually earned. Amelia was truly pleased as punch with her own self-sufficiency. My new friend, whom I'd acquired almost by accident, was a bundle of contradictions. Since she was a very clear broadcaster, I got her thoughts loud and clear. When I was alone with Amelia, I had to shield like crazy. I'd relaxed with Quinn around, but I shouldn't have. I was getting a whole mess from Amelia's head.
"So, could your dad help you find your mentor?" Quinn asked.
Amelia looked blank for a moment, as if she was considering that. "I don't see how," she said slowly. "He's a powerful guy; you know that. But he's having as much trouble in New Orleans since Katrina as the rest of the people are."