Rodina quirked a smile at me; her curly blond hair had grown out enough to touch the lower part of her face. She'd put a streak of pink in the almost white-blond curls. It was wash-out dye, so that if she needed to blend in again she could get rid of it. It was the third color she'd tried a streak of in the last few months; once she realized that we didn't have any restrictions on what our guards did with their hair or body, she'd started experimenting. She and Ru were both pale blonds with light enough skin that they had a dusting of golden freckles across their cheeks and noses. You expected blue eyes with all that, but their eyes were black, as in a brown so dark that you couldn't tell where their pupils stopped and their irises started. Rodina used black eyeliner to emphasize the improbable eye color and had even persuaded her twin brother Ru to use guy-liner; that, coupled with the all-black clothing they wore, made them look very Goth. The first time I'd remarked on that, Ru had said, "No, we're from Wales." I gave up trying to explain that I hadn't meant Visigoths, because he kept trying to talk real history instead of modern cultural references.
"You aren't happy to see us," Rodina said. "Would you prefer someone else in our places?"
She was right, and she felt what I was feeling just like Nicky did, and for the same reason. All three of them were my Brides--Brides of Anita instead of Brides of Dracula--and all for similar reasons, because I'd been desperately trying to save myself or save the people I loved, or both. When I met R and R in Ireland, they'd been R, R, and R, triplets, but their brother, Rodrigo, had given his life to save ours. It was good that he'd sacrificed himself, because it had saved me from killing him for killing Domino. Being able to turn him into a Bride had changed him from would-be assassin and kidnapper to rescuer. If I hadn't been able to work that bit of magic, then Nathaniel would have lost a lot more than just his hair. So why wasn't I happy to see them as our bodyguards? Because it was like Nathaniel's short hair; every time I saw what was left of the triplets, I was reminded about what had happened in Ireland, or what had almost happened, and I didn't love the twins the way I did Nicky. I'd figured out how the Bride thing worked by then, and I hadn't accidently bound myself to them emotionally the way I had with Nicky. I was free to remember that they would have happily tortured Nathaniel and me to death if I hadn't been powerful enough to mind-fuck them. It made it hard for me to like them. The fact that Ru looked exactly like his dead brother, who had done horrible things to me, didn't help either.
"I'm working my issues about how we met in Ireland, but I'm not there yet," I said.
Nathaniel walked up and put an arm across each one's shoulders. His black T-shirt, black jeans, and black boots matched their outfits, except their boots were less club and more SWAT. The three of them were within an inch of the same height. Rodina and Ru put an arm around Nathaniel's waist as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Rodina even managed a smile, suddenly looking as young as her body did; even her posture changed.
"I've started requesting them for my guard detail," he said, smiling at me, his face leaning down so that he and Rodina posed for a minute like a high school couple. Even Ru being a slightly less comfortable third wheel was very high school, or maybe college.
"I didn't know that," I said.
"Neither did I," Micah said.
"You've both been traveling a lot," Nicky said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Why have you been traveling so much?" Rodina asked, voice friendly and unfriendly all at the same time.
"I do not think that is what she means, Sister," Ru said, his voice far more uncertain than his sister's usually was.
"Nathaniel, why request them?" I said.
"Because we won in Ireland, Anita. I know bad things happened, awful things, but we won, and you keep acting like we lost."
"We are like trophies to Nathaniel," Rodina said, "trophies of victory like slaves brought back after a war." If she resented being brought back as a "slave," her voice and face didn't show it. Her body language stayed friendly and open as she stood there holding Nathaniel.
I resisted an urge to tell her to stop touching him. Ru stepped away so he wasn't touching Nathaniel, but she didn't. Nicky was compelled to keep me happy, and Ru seemed to be as well. It should have worked the same with Rodina, but she liked pushing limits, and she didn't seem as invested in keeping me happy. Nicky said it actually caused him pain to have me near him and unhappy. Maybe Rodina was a masochist.
Nathaniel looked at her. "Do you really think I treat you like a slave, or are you just trying to get a reaction?"
She looked at him, really looked at him as if it mattered to her. The hard-edged teasing fell away for a few minutes. "No, but you do see us as living trophies of your victory."
He drew away from her, or tried to, but she held on a little and I realized that he mattered to her more than I'd thought. What else had I missed while I was at work?
Ru said, "She doesn't mean that as a bad thing, Nathaniel. She just means that you look at us and see that you fought and won."
"Ru and I like being your victory march," she said. She turned those dark eyes to me and said, "It's better than being Anita's funeral dirge."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"You never look at us without remembering the death of your weretiger, and you never look at Nathaniel's shortened hair without remembering what might have happened. You are haunted in your mind and heart by it. Warriors do not let fear steal their victory after they have won, Anita, and that is what you are doing."
"I don't need a lecture from you."
"You need it from someone," she said.
"That's not your call."
"I'm sorry you lost your lover in Ireland, but has it occurred to you that Ru and I lost our brother there?"
I had a moment of not knowing what to show on my face, because I didn't usually think of it that way. "I'm sorry if you're mourning him."
"If? After a thousand years you mourn enemies, Anita. He was our brother, our triplet; we shared a womb together; you can't imagine the bond that forged between us."
"One close enough that when I mind-fucked Rodrigo it fucked all three of you. So, yeah, I have some idea how close the bond was." I still sounded unsympathetic.
"Rodrigo stepped between y
ou and a shotgun blast. He died to save you and Nathaniel." She finally sounded angry.
"Yeah, and I'm grateful for that, I really am, but Rodrigo killed Domino in front of me and made me drink his blood. I don't know how to forgive that, Rodina."
"It was stupid and cruel. Rodrigo could be like that sometimes," she said.
"He gave his life to redeem his mistake," Ru said.
"No, he gave his life because once I made you my Brides he had to do everything he could to keep me happy and alive. You all did; you all still do."
"We are well aware that we are tied to you in a way that should not be possible. We are part of the Harlequin. Even you should not have been able to make us into your Brides. Our ties to our vampire master should have kept us safe from that particular insult."
"Your master didn't have enough juice to keep me out of your heads."
"No, he didn't, and that is why we know you are the true heir to our dead queen." She didn't sound happy about the fact.
And just like that I didn't know what to say to her. I never seemed to know what to say to either of them. If Rodrigo had not forced Domino's blood down my throat, then I wouldn't have been powerful enough to roll his mind. He had accidently fulfilled the prophecy of me "marrying" one of the clan tigers, because the prophecy didn't mean marrying for life; it meant taking in their life, their essence. One cruel act had given me the fuel I needed to save us. If Domino had not died, if Rodrigo hadn't tried to terrorize me with the blood of my dead lover, then Nathaniel and I would have died in Ireland. Not just died, but died by torture, like serial-killer-worthy torture. Rodina was right: I couldn't let it go, couldn't get past how narrow the escape had been. I was stuck with the thought that Domino's death and Rodrigo's cruelty had saved the day; that two events that I would have given almost anything to change had saved Nathaniel's life and mine. I hated that, hated it so much. It made me want to hate Rodina and Ru, as if I could blame them for it all and that would make it better.
Micah touched my arm, and I fought the urge to pull away from him. I was so angry, and I so wanted to be angry at someone. I wanted a target, so badly, but I knew better than to take it out on Micah. He hadn't even been in Ireland. None of this was his fault. No, I'd been the one who'd endangered Nathaniel, not him.
"What have I missed?" Bram asked.